Diderot, the Testing Years, 1713-1759  

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Diderot, the Testing Years, 1713-1759 by Arthur McCandless Wilson (1902-1979).

Excerpt on lemma which are no more than "empty names":

"The Encyclopédie was interested in the scientific method" and "the greatest function of the work ... was that of making people more aware of the methodological problems that constantly beset the acquisition of knowledge and the pursuit of truth. Obviously this was a campaign that had to be conducted on many fronts. One of them was the attack on words or names that in reality were devoid of meaning. Diderot's technique was to call attention to names, especially of plants and animals, about which little more was known than simply the empty name itself. For example, he wrote about 'Aguaxima': 'A plant of Brazil and of the islands of southern America. That is all that we are told of it; and I would willingly inquire for whom such descriptions are made. It cannot be for the natives, who very likely know more characteristics of the aguaxima than this description includes, and who have no need of being told that the aguaxima grows in their country; it is as if one said to a Frenchman that the pear tree is a tree that grows in France, in Germany, etc. Nor can it be for us; for what does it matter to us whether there be in Brazil a tree named aguaxima, if we know only its name? What purpose does the name serve? It leaves the ignorant in the condition they were; it teaches others nothing. If it happens, then, that I mention this plant, and several others equally poorly described, it is out of condescension for certain readers who prefer to find nothing in a dictionary article, or even to find nothing but silliness in it, than not to find the article at all. [20] Similarly, of the word 'Aguapa': A tree that grows in the West Indies, the shadow of which is said to cause the death of those who sleep in it naked, while it causes all others to swell up in a prodigious fashion. If the natives of these countries do not know it better than it is identified for us by this description, they are in great danger.' [21] And in discussing the word 'Acalipse' he remarked, Here is another one of these beings ... of which one has only the name; as if one did not already have too many names empty of sense in the sciences, arts, etc. [22][1]

Full text

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Diderot The testing years, 1715-1759


9 2 Wilson Diderot 1713-1759


DUb.


DIDEROT:

THE TESTING YEARS, 1713-1759


WINNER OF THE MODERN LANGUAGE ASSOCIATION OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS AWARD TO ENCOURAGE WORK PROVIDING A GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF SIGNIFICANT LITERATURE IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE.



Bust of Diderot, by Ilouclon (1771;


DIDEROT


THE TESTING YEARS, 1713-1759


By ARTHUR M. WILSON



NEW YORK OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 1957


1957 BY. OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, INC.

Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 57-8485


PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


To

C.Z.W. and A.M.W., Sr,

And to

M.Z.G. and R.W.G.,

In Gratitude and Appreciation


Preface


A RECENT REVIEWER in The Times Literary Supple ment remarked, regarding Diderot, that among

the great minds of the eighteenth century Diderot has received less atten tion in this country than he deserves.

Yet interest in Diderot has been increasing markedly of late. Partly this is because of an ever-widening persuasion that he has been too much neglected and too little understood. Partly it is because of the publicity at tendant upon the celebration in 1951 of the bicentenary of the Encycloptédie. Most of all, it is because of the growing conviction of biographers, historians, and critics that Diderot was not only one of the most representative men of his age but also one of the most glowingly modern figures of the eighteenth century. Certainly for Americans, who are children of the Enlightenment to a degree that is unique among twentieth-century peoples, the life and times of Diderot can have unusual interest and relevancy.

This book has therefore been written in the hope of meeting the needs of two audiences the general reader and the specialist. The general reader, if he has no previous knowledge about Diderot, has a right to be shown why Diderot and Diderot s times and Diderot s vicissitudes should interest him. As for the specialist, it is hoped that the bibliographical information con tained in this book will be useful; and that even for him a conspectus of the early career of Diderot will be of interest.

The reader will discover in the following chapters a good deal more information regarding the contents of the Encyclopedic than is usual in biographies of Diderot. By this analysis and description of the contents of such a great work of reference and instruction, it is hoped that the reader will gain a more vivid insight into the intellectual conditions of the Age of Enlightenment.

For every researcher it is a pleasure to record his obligations to the various

vii


PREFACE Vlll

libraries that have aided him in his work. In this instance, the author is under the greatest debt to the Dartmouth College Library and to the Bibli- otheque Nationale. Also of very great assistance were the Library of Con gress, the Mazarine and the Bibliotheque de 1 Arsenal at Paris, the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, the New York Public Library, the Boston Public Library, and the university libraries of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I also hold in grateful recollec tion all the numerous libraries, from Quebec to San Marino I fear to list them lest the enumeration grow tedious where, during vacation or sab batical leave, we have sought out the manuscript source or the rare edition or the comparatively inaccessible book. To the administrations and staffs of all these institutions I here record my heartfelt thanks.

Research on Diderot has of course entailed the pleasant necessity of wander ing about in Paris and Langres, seeking the sites and buildings associated with events in his life. In this connection I particularly desire to record my thanks to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Langres, M. Beligne and M. FAbbe Rabin, for their courtesy and hospitality, as well as to express my apprecia tion of these qualities in the Librarian of the Municipal Library of Langres, the late M. Populus.

During the time when this book was in preparation, Dartmouth College granted me two years of sabbatical leave, as well as a reduction of teaching duties during one semester. I gratefully acknowledge this assistance, as also the fellowship granted by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Founda tion.

Grateful acknowledgment is also made to the Editions de Minuit, Paris, for permission to quote from M. Georges Roth s edition of Diderot s Corre- sp on dance; and to the Librairie Armand Colin, Paris, for permission to quote from the Dufour-Plan edition of Rousseau s Correspondence g&n&rale.

Several persons have had the kindness to read this book in manuscript. It has materially benefited from the judgment of Professor Thomas G. Bergin of Yale University, Professor W. M. Frohock of Harvard University, Pro fessor Hayward Keniston of Duke University, Professor H. W. Victor Lange of Cornell University, and Professor Norman L. Torrey of Columbia Uni versity. To all of these scholars I desire to acknowledge gratefully my in debtedness. I have also been the beneficiary of the counsel of Professors Charles R. Bagley and Frangois Denoeu, both of Dartmouth College, and Mr. Bradford Martin, of Thetford Hill, Vermont. Each has offered valuable suggestions from which I have greatly profited.

Two persons in particular have been of indispensable assistance in bring-


PREFACE 1X

ing this book into being. The first is Professor Ira O. Wade of Princeton University, whose helpful and encouraging suggestions are most gratefully acknowledged. The other is my wife. My debt to her, as research assistant and critic, simply defies description. So does my appreciation.

A.M.W.

Hanover, New Hampshire March 1957


Contents


Prologue, 3

1. Diderot s Family and Early Childhood, 9

2. Diderot Becomes an Abbe and Goes to Paris, 20

3. Clandestine Marriage, 37

4. First Fruits, 47

5. The Emerging Philosophe, 59

6. The Early History of the Encyclopedic, 73

7. Two Very Different Books, 83

8. Letter on the Blind, 92

9. Diderot in Prison, 103

10. The Prospectus of the Encyclopedic, and Letter on the Deaf and Dumb,

117

11. What Readers Found in Volume I of the Encyclopedic, 130

12. Up till Now, Hell Has Vomited Its Venom Drop by Drop/ 150

13. The Encyclopedic Recontinued, 161


XI


Xii CONTENTS

14. Italian Opera and French Taste, 173

15. Diderot s Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature, 187

16. Man Is Born To Think for Himself, 199

17. Business and Pleasure: A New Contract, Mme Geofirin s Salon,

Sophie Volland, 218

1 8. Changing the General Way of Thinking, 232

19. Growing Tension with Rousseau: Only the Bad Man Lives Alone, 247

20. How To Write a Play: Example and Precept, 260

21. Rising Opposition; DAlembert s Blunder in Volume VII, 275

22. I Used To Have an Aristarchus ... I Wish To Have Him No Longer/

291

23. Signs and Portents of Approaching Eclipse, 307

24. Le Pere de Famille and the Discourse on Dramatic Poetry/ 322

25. The Death of the Phoenix, 332 Epilogue, 343

List of Abbreviations, 347 Notes, 349 Bibliography, 399 Index, 405


DIDEROT:

THE TESTING YEARS, 1713-1759


PROLOGUE


The Announcement of an Important Event


r


[N NOVEMBER of 1750 there took place in Paris what might seem to be nothing more than an inconsider able occurrence in the realm of letters. An editor of a forthcoming encyclo pedia published a prospectus explaining to a hoped-for public what would be the content of his work and the principles of his editorial policy. Yet the work thus announced secured so many readers, the ideas it contained modi fied current thinking to such a degree, that now the publication of its prospectus is recognized as one of the most important events in the political as well as the intellectual history of the eighteenth century. To symbolize this importance, the French government published in 1950 a reprint in national commemoration of the bicentenary of the event.

The prospectus sought favor in a world familiar to us through the paint ings of Nattier, Boucher, and Lancret a world in which the charming gracefulness and frivolity of the rococo was succeeding to the stately majesty of the baroque. It was the world of wigs, smallclothes, and three-cornered hats; of panniers and beauty patches and pancakes of rouge laid on delicate cheeks. It was the world of the minuet, danced in rooms gleaming with gilt and shimmering with mirrors; of Meissen figurines and of ladies as fragile as the porcelain that portrayed them; the world of the harpsichord, the recorder, and the viola da gamba; of the musket, the frigate, and the balance of power. This was the time when Russia was becoming more important in European diplomacy, when Frederick II of Prussia was astonishing Europe by his temerity and dumbfounding it by his success. It was the time when immense French and British colonial empires were in the making and were providing stakes for great colonial wars. In the American context, it was the time that lay between King George s War and the French and Indian War, between the proud conquest of Louisbourg by the men of Massachusetts and the defeat of Braddock in the western forests. It was a


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 4

time when the Church patently expected to continue confining men s thoughts within a narrow orthodoxy, and privileged classes patently expected to continue enjoying their privileges. Yet it was also a time when the mer chant, banking, and professional elements of society were everywhere rising in esteem and wealth. In 1750 Johann Sebastian Bach had just breathed his last, Henry Fielding had published Tom Jones, Dr. Samuel Johnson was laboring upon his famous Dictionary, and George Washington was eighteen

years old.

The prospectus was published in a country which was far from being be nighted. Yet it was one which, in its acceptance of inequalities and in its denial of civil liberties, fell some distance short of Utopia. It was a society in which prisons and galleys existed for those confessing the Protestant faith, where one of the duties o the public executioner was the burning of books, where valor in the service of one s country could never quite make up for the lack of noble birth, where a peasantry dressed in rags, where a villager might find his taxes enormously and arbitrarily increased if the tax collector espied any chicken feathers on the doorstep, where decent burial could be refused to those who did not make their peace with the Church, where nothing could be legally published without undergoing censorship, and where a man could lawfully be arrested and indefinitely detained without cause being shown.

The prospectus announced a work so new in idea that even its name was unfamiliar and had to be explained, with learned reference to the Greek roots: The word "Encyclopedia" signifies the interrelationship of the sciences. And in order to give a visual presentation of the interrelationships of the branches of learning, the author appended to his prospectus a much-admired chart of human knowledge. The visualized relationships in this genealogical tree of all the sciences and all the arts/ avowedly modeled upon a similar project by Lord Bacon, were to be emphasized constantly in the body of the work by means of cross reference.

Clearly the author of the prospectus coveted for people, as do present-day proponents of general education, the pleasure and excitement that comes from realization of how knowledge is interrelated and interlocked. This effort at integration was to be one of the proposed work s greatest entice ments. It was to be accomplished, wrote the author, by Indicating the connec tions, both remote and near, of the beings that compose Nature and which have occupied the attention of mankind; of showing, by the interlacing of the roots and branches, the impossibility of knowing well any parts of this whole without ascending or descending to many others; of forming a general picture of the efforts of the human mind in all fields and every century; of


PROLOGUE 5

presenting these objects with clarity; of giving to each one of them its appro priate length, and, if possible, of substantiating by our success our epigraph [a quotation from Horace]:

So great is the power of order and arrangement;

So much grace may be imparted to a common theme/

The French public had never before been offered just such an opportunity. England had had a successful Cyclopaedia, edited by Ephraim Chambers and published in two volumes in 1728. Indeed, it was this Cyclopaedia that provided the stimulus for the great work of reference now to be published in France. But the French work promised to outstrip its predecessor in size and coverage. Moreover, it would possess the advantage of being published in a language that, unlike the comparatively little-known English of that day, was the circulating medium of ideas, the common coin, of all educated men.

The work thus announced was to be the result of the combined labor of a considerable number of well-known men of letters, experts, and specialists. It was to consist of ten volumes in folio, of which two were to contain en gravings. This size would allow a range of subject matter vastly greater than that of any existing work of reference. It was thus hoped to provide a book which one might consult on every subject/ The aim of the French En cyclopedia, as set forth in its prospectus/ wrote Frank Moore Colby, the American encyclopedist and essayist, was to serve as a reference library for every intelligent man on all subjects save his own. That has remained the aim of general encyclopedias ever since/

The lack of a comprehensive and extensive encyclopedia is hard for us, who have such an abundance of excellent ones, to understand. But the author of the prospectus was announcing his work at a time when the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannic a was twenty-one years in the future, and he could say quite rightly that no existing work of reference did justice to the great names and the great intellectual accomplishments of the seventeenth century. What progress has not since been made in the sciences and the arts? asked the author of the prospectus, speaking of his puny and outworn predecessors. How many truths known today, but only glimpsed then? True philosophy was in its cradle [the author of the prospectus did not care for scholastic philosophy] ; the geometry of the infinite was not yet in being; experimental physics was just beginning to show itself; the laws of sound criticism were entirely ignored. Descartes, Boyle, Huyghens, Newton, Leibniz, the Bernoullis, Locke, Bayle, Pascal, Corneille, Racine, Bourdaloue, Bossuet, etc., either did not exist or had not written/


g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

The Encyclopedic was, in fact, very fortunate in its time of publication, for it fitted exactly into the intellectual and social needs of the time. We know now that the eighteenth century was moving more rapidly toward radical change, was more in need of it, than the age itself realized. It was not merely that new conceptions of truth, stemming from current hypotheses about physics and psychology, were having a profoundly unsettling effect upon conventional ideas of morality, religion, and even politics; it was also that the middle classes were daily becoming more qualified to exercise power while being denied their share of it; that a new technology was beginning, whether as cause or effect of the incipient Industrial Revolution; that new theories as to what constitutes the wealth of nations were in gestation; that new doctrines of agricultural husbandry were beginning to be canvassed; and that changing economic conditions were beginning to call attention to such matters as the legal status of peasants and town workers, the supply of labor, the incidence of taxation, and the conditions of occupancy of land.

No doubt the significance of these changes or of these emerging prob lems was hidden save in glimpses to a few whom Carlyle would term Seers, and of whom the author of the prospectus was one. But even though the ordinary citizen of the eighteenth century might not recognize the massiveness of the changes that were overtaking his world, he would probably have been aware, however obscurely, that a certain this-worldliness was beginning to overlie the emphasis of preceding generations on othcr- worldliness. Somehow he now seemed to need to know, or want to know, the names of more objects, the application of more theories, the purpose of more tools, and the geographical location of more places than ever before. The places and objects and relationships of a secular existence were in creasingly obtruding themselves upon the attention of the most nonchalant, the most frivolous, the most devout.

The Encyclopedic was precisely the means for giving information about these myriads of external objects and relationships, especially as its principal editor, the author of its prospectus, was himself the son of a craftsman and had an extremely lively interest in the technology and craftsmanship of the day. Certainly no one preached the dignity of labor more adroitly than he, and to this purpose he went to great lengths to make his Encyclopedic a repository of knowledge concerning the mechanical arts:

. . . Everything accordingly impelled us to have recourse to the workers them selves. We went to the cleverest ones in Paris and in the kingdom. We took the pains of going into their workshops, of questioning them, of writing under their dictation, of developing their thoughts, of educing from them the terms peculiar


PROLOGUE 7

to their profession, of drawing up tables of such terms, of defining them, of con versing with those persons from whom we had obtained memoranda and (an almost indispensable precaution) of rectifying, in long and frequent conversations with some, what others had imperfectly, obscurely, or unfaithfully explained.

Some crafts were so complicated, the prospectus remarked, that it was necessary to learn to operate the machines and even to construct them before the craft could be accurately described. And the author explained that drafts men had been sent into the workshops to prepare drawings from which engravings for the Encyclopedic would be made.

The promises made by the prospectus were widely welcomed. The Mercure de France, remarking that the prospectus was much appreciated by the pub lic, printed lengthy quotations from it. The magisterial and somewhat ponderous Journal dcs Sgavans spoke of the project as one of the most interesting and costly since the invention of printing . . . and spoke with no less approbation of the drawings, *of which we have seen a very consider able part, [and which] are of great beauty. And the youthful Adam Smith, writing for the Edinburgh Review in 1755, declared that: The French work which I just now mentioned, promises to be the most compleat of the kind which has ever been published or attempted in any language.

The need for the promised work was proved in the most convincing way of all: subscribers names on the dotted line, subscribers money in down payments. By the end of April 1751, a little less than six months after the prospectus had been published, there were 1,002 subscribers, each of them paying a deposit of 60 livres for a work scheduled to cost 280 livres in all. By the end of the year the number of subscribers had risen to 2,619, and the number finally rose to about 4000, to say nothing of the subscribers to several editions pirated in Italy and Switzerland. The demand, moreover, was general throughout the Western world. The publishers later asserted that nearly three-fourths of the 4000 subscriptions were taken up in the provinces or by foreigners.

The subscribers got the information they paid for but conjoined with a special point of view. So distinctive was the particular outlook of the En cyclopedic (and of its editor, the author of the prospectus) that it infuriated many persons, while preparing many others for the reforms brought about by the Revolution of 1789. The contents of the Encyclopedic will be described in more detail later. Here it suffices to say that the Encyclopedic trusted much to the operation of common sense, and was not afraid of change. Essentially, what it advocated can be quite accurately described to American readers as Hamiltonianism plus the Bill of Rights. And because it gave


8 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

currency to these ideas, it has often been called the Trojan Horse of the ancien regime.

There were many people and many vested interests in eighteenth-century France who did not want Hamiltonianism and the Bill of Rights. Their perfervid opposition made the expression of such ideas hazardous, espe cially since the Encyclopedic depended for publication upon an official license, a license which was twice taken away and only very grudgingly and qualifiedly restored. Therefore, to have the tact and energy and courage sufficient to keep the enterprise going, and to combine these with the in tellectual breadth requisite in an editor of so vast a work, called for unusual qualities in unusual conjunction. These the author of the prospectus has always been acknowledged to have. At the distance of some centuries/ wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau, . . . [he] will seem a prodigious man. People will look from afar at that universal head with commingled admiration and astonishment as we look today at the heads of Plato and Aristotle. It is this prodigious man who is the subject of this book. Yet with all his prodigiousness, he still had much to learn and much to endure when he wrote his prospectus. Dedicated to the task he had ac cepted, he fortunately could not foresee the rigors of the years ahead, the enemies he was destined to arouse, the anxieties and frustrations he would have to experience before the mammoth work could be brought to a suc cessful conclusion. In the decade between the publication of the prospectus and the suppression of the Encyclopedic in 1759, the Enlightenment in France was taking its characteristic set/ Ideas were being tested together with the men holding them. Of no one could this be said with greater aptness than of the young author of the prospectus, destined to become one of the great leaders of the Enlightenment in some respects the greatest of them all And because of this very process of testing, much of it painful, some of it unfelt and unseen, the author of the prospectus found himself equipped, ten years after it was written, to cope successfully with the greatest and longest crisis of his life. This book is the story of that preparation.


CHAPTER I


Diderot s Family and Early Childhood


EN


"ANGRES, the pleasant but somewhat austere old f Roman town in which Denis Diderot was born, is situated imposingly and rather self-consciously on the northern extremity of the plateau of Langres, so that the land falls sharply away from it on three sides, and one of the principal modes of communication with the outside world is a cog railway connecting it with the nearby Paris-Basel railway line. The city is well remembered by many members of the AEF of 1917-18 as the site of numerous staff and training schools. No doubt many veterans (of both wars) will recall, as in their mind s eye they make the deliberate but exhilarating ascent, the bulk of the massive Charity Hospital, the old towers on the city walls, the second-century Gallo-Roman gate, and the delightful walk on the ramparts around the town, from which one over looks the nearby plain where the River Marne has its source and can extend one s gaze in the direction of the Vosges and the Alps.

Perhaps they will remember, too, the rather severe-looking old houses, which frequently conceal a Louis XIV interior or screen a Renaissance garden front; the grimy children playing in the streets (Langres, because of its location, is short of playgrounds and water) ; the rather unusual num ber of priests and nuns, for Langres is still a conspicuously pious town; and a general air of quietude of which the inhabitants are very proud, speaking as they do of the calm of our provincial cities, in transparent allusion to the bustle of iniquitous Paris.

It is easy for the visitor to Langres to feel a wistfulness for the long ago and far away. Even Diderot himself, never inclined to be unduly senti mental about the native town from which he had emancipated himself although he was often a touch sentimental about other things experienced on a visit to Langres in his middle age something of the spell exerted by tranquil and beautiful surroundings in a place where life has been flowing

9


10


in the same channels for many generations. We have here/ he wrote to Sophie Volland, a charming promenade, consisting of a broad aisle of

thickly verdured trees leading to a small grove tis there that I come

afternoons at five. My eyes wander over the most beautiful landscape m the

wor ld I pass hours in this spot, reading, meditating, contemplating

nature, and thinking of my love/ 1 The Park of the White Fountain, to the south and through the Gate of the Windmills, is now, as it was when Diderot described it in 1759, a place of beauty and of hushed delight.

Diderot later commemorated the history and antiquities of Langres in an article inserted in the Encyclopedic. This exercise in civic piety, couched in sentences uncharacteristically dry and antiquarian, recalled that Langres had been the ancient Andematunum, the capital city of the Lingones; that it was situated in Champagne, fourteen leagues from Dijon, forty from Reims, and sixty-three from Paris; and that it was the seat of a bishop. 2 Diderot might also have remarked that it lies in good wine country, that it had when he wrote a population of about ten thousand, and that it had long been celebrated for the quality of the cutlery that its craftsmen produced.

One of the characteristics for which Diderot became famous was a zest not to say a weakness for the divagatious. This intellectual volatility he ascribed, half-whimsically, half-seriously, to the climate of Langres. The inhabitants of this district have great wit, too much vivacity, and the in constancy of weather-vanes, he wrote. This comes, I believe, from the changes in their atmosphere, which passes in twenty-four hours from cold to hot, from calm to stormy, from clear to rainy. . . . Thus they accustom themselves from the most tender infancy to turn to every wind. The head of a man from Langres is set upon his shoulders the way a cock is set upon the top of a belfry. . . . Yet with such a surprising rapidity in their move ments, desires, projects, fantasies, and ideas, they have a drawling speech .... As for me, I am of my district, except that residence in the capital and assiduous application have somewhat corrected me. 3

The appearance of the town reflected then, as it does today, the piety of a community traditionally devoted to Roman Catholicism. There were (and still are) standing in little niches in the housefronts charming madonnas carved in the hard and unweathering stone of the neighborhood. There was (and still is) the cathedral, dedicated to Saint-Mammes, a more than shadowy Cappadocian whose martyred head is said to have been brought to Langres soon after his death, which occurred about 274. There were the churches of Saint-Martin and Saint-Pierre, in the latter of which Diderot was baptized. 4 There was the church of Saint-Didier (now one of the local


DIDEROT S FAMILY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD II

museums), dedicated to a sainted but somewhat misty bishop of Langres who was martyred about 264 and whose tomb may be seen in the apse of the museum. It is believed to have been the image of this local saint, cradling his mitred and martyred head in his arm, that occupied the Louis XIII niche in the facade of the house in which Diderot grew up. 5 Finally, there was the great crucifix standing in the Place Chambeau, the Place upon which the Diderot home faced. The square is still there, now appropriately named the Place Diderot. The crucifix is not. A statue of Diderot, done in 1884 by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, has re placed it. There is little doubt that Diderot would have been vastly amused if he could have foreseen such a triumphant usurpation.

For Diderot came to be an earnest and devoted anticlerical. It is, therefore, all the more piquant to observe that his closest relatives were people who were either extremely pious laymen or else professional religious whose lives were spent in the service of the Church. For example, his mother s brother, Didier Vigneron, was a canon at the local cathedral until his death when Diderot was fifteen years old. Another uncle, Jean Vigneron, was curate at Chassigny, ten miles south of Langres, and died there the year of Diderot s birth. Two uncles of Diderot s mother and two of her cousins had also been country priests, and on the Diderot side of the family, an uncle, Antoine by name, was a Dominican friar. 6 Diderot sprang from a milieu that was not only intimately familiar with the tradition of the Church but also not in the least rebellious against it.

Such had been the way of his ancestors since the names of Diderot and Vigneron first began to appear in the records of the locality. The name Diderot crops up in Langres documents from the middle of the fifteenth century, that of Vigneron from 1558. Both families were of artisan stock, and predominantly devoted themselves through the generations to being either cutlers or tanners. Both families, moreover, displayed a talent for progenitiveness. The Encyclopedist s great-grandfather Vigneron had had nine children; grandfather Vigneron, eleven. Great-grandfather Diderot, for his part, had had fourteen children; grandfather Diderot, nine. Denis Diderot himself was one of a family to which seven children were born. 7

Into this world, swarming with relatives, Diderot was born on 5 October 1713, the year haughty old Louis XIV had to accept the Treaties of Utrecht which put an end to the exhausting War of the Spanish Succession. But the abundance of Diderot s family connections seems to have left little impression upon him, if one may judge from the rarity of his subsequent allusions to them. He never mentioned his paternal grandfather, although


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

12

that Denis Diderot was also the boy s godfather and survived until young Denis was in his thirteenth yean He never referred in his letters or writings to his uncle, the Dominican friar, or by name to his aunt and godmother, Claire Vigneron, though on one occasion, it is true, he included them in family greetings sent through a friend. 8 And the retiring and no doubt well- deserving lives of the Diderot collaterals, the cousins and the cousina-german and the cousins twice removed, have remained, for aught of him, obscure.

Even Diderot s mother figures only infrequently in anything he ever committed to paper. Angflique Vigneron, the daughter of a merchant tanner, was born on 12 October 1677, and married Didier Diderot, a master cutler, in 1711 or the beginning of 1712. It was remarkable for the period that she was not married before the age of thirty-four. Moreover, she was eight years older than her husband. Her first child, a son, was born on 5 November 1712, and died soon thereafter. 10 Eleven months later the birth of a second son, the subject of this biography, partially repaired the loss, Diderot mentions his mother only four times, but perhaps the depth of feeling revealed in the last two of these passages atones for the strange^lack of more references. The first two allusions come in letters to his friend, Friedrich Melchior Grimm, in which Diderot simply remarks that he was absent when his mother died. 11 The third allusion is in a letter to Sophie Volland, written when he was forty-seven: There are two or three honest men and two or three honest women in this world, and Providence has sent them to me. ... If Providence should speak and say to me, "... I have given thee Didier for father and Angelique for mother; thou knowest what they were and what they have done for thee. What is remaining for thec to ask of me?," I don t know what I should say in reply. 12

The fourth allusion to his mother dates from 1770, when Diderot was at Bourbonne-les-Bains and writing an account of the town and the medicinal properties of its waters. When one is in a country, one should inform oneself somewhat of what goes on there, he began. Presently, in a characteristic digression with characteristic dots: Now it is midnight. I am alone, and I bring to mind these good folk, these good parents. . . . O thou, who used to warm my cold feet in thy hands, O my mother! . . . 13 Diderot s deep- seated regard for his mother was displayed by the fact that both his daughters the first dying before the second was born were christened Angelique*

Diderot was extremely fond of his father and often refers to him. Didier Diderot (born 14 September 1685) was so good an artisan that his surgical knives, scalpels, and lancets, stamped with his hallmark of a pearl, were


DIDEROT S FAMILY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD 13

much in demand. A French doctor writing in 1913 spoke with respect of the elder Diderot and of his lancets, which he very greatly perfected: better in the hand, they cut more cleanly, and the lancets with the mark o the pearl were sought out by all the doctors teaching medicine. I possess one myself, bequeathed to me by an old physician of Langres, and I understand without difficulty the enthusiasm of contemporaries. 14 The eminence of Diderot s father in his craft is attested also by the fact that in the Langres Museum at the Hotel du Breuil there is a pair of small scissors of a design perfected, tradition says, by the elder Diderot.

Diderot s father was, moreover, a man of property who enjoyed a reputa tion for piety and integrity. During that same night in Bourbonne-les-Bains, his son wrote: *. . . one of the things that has occasioned me the greatest pleasure was the crabbed remark addressed to me by a local man some years after my father s death. I was crossing a street in my city when this man laid his hand on my arm and said, "Monsieur Diderot, you are a good man; but if you think you will ever be the equal of your father, you are mis taken/" 15

How Diderot felt about his father is well illustrated by a statement that he made six years after the old man had died. Provoked by a dispute with a priest about the character of the Heavenly Father, Diderot made clear his sentiments concerning his earthly one: The first years I spent at Paris were considerably disordered; my conduct was more than sufficient to irritate my father, without there being any need to exaggerate it. Nevertheless, calumny had not been wanting. He had been told. . . . What hadn t he been told ? The opportunity for going to see him presented itself. I did not hesitate. I set out full of confidence in his goodness. I thought that he would see me, that I should throw myself into his arms, that both of us would shed tears, and that all would be forgotten. I thought right. 16

Fifteen months after the birth of the future Encyclopedist, the eldest daughter, Denise, was born (27 January 1715). This sister, whom Denis Diderot greatly admired, sometimes referring to her, when they were both in middle age, as little sister and sometimes as a female Socrates, remained a spinster throughout her long life. Sometime in middle age she developed a pimple on her nose that became a cancer and entirely destroyed that part of her face. 17 This affliction, necessitating the use of false noses (she even tried one made of glass), was evidently endured in a spirit of Christian cheerfulness. 18 Diderot s daughter spoke of her aunt as a woman who possessed the rare secret of finding heaven on earth, and Diderot himself


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 14

wrote in 1770, I love my sister to distraction, not so much because she is my sister as because of my taste for things excellent of their kind. How many fine characteristics I could mention of her if I chose! 19

Denise was followed in the Diderot family by three other sisters about whom very little is known. The first, Catherine, was born sometime in 1716 and buried 30 August 1718. The second, also named Catherine, was born and baptized on 18 April 1719, Then on 3 April 1720, Angelique Diderot was born. It was an eighteenth-century custom peculiar to Langres and its neighborhood, I have been told though now quite general in France to allow persons of extremely tender age to stand as godparents. Thus it was that Angelique s brother stood as godfather for this new sister and boldly signed the baptismal register with his own hand. 20

It is evident, therefore, that Diderot grew up with considerable experience in being the elder brother of girls. When he left Langres for Paris in 1728 or 1729, his three living sisters were, respectively, about thirteen, nine, and eight years old, although the second Catherine may already have died. In the fullness of time and, oddly, against the wishes of her family Angelique became a nun, an Ursuline. 21 His daughter, in her memoirs of Diderot, de clares that this sister became insane as a result of overwork in the convent and died at the age of twenty-eight. 22 This incident no doubt was one of the causes of Diderot s dislike of convents, which helped to provide the impetus many years later for his very effective novel, The Nun.

The Benjamin of the family was a boy born on 21 March I722. 23 Didier- Pierre Diderot, as he was named in the baptismal ceremony in which his elder brother served as a proxy godfather, grew up to be a pious and evi dently quite thorny Catholic priest, a canon in the cathedral at Langres who accounted his greatest shame to be his brother s impiety. The personal rela tions of the two brothers, although not hateful, were none too cordial Each deplored the views of the other while entertaining a stubborn sort of reluc tant affection entirely unmixed with respect. The Canon carried his disap probation to the point of refusing to see his brother s daughter and her children, and when in 1780 he was invited by the mayor and aldermen of Langres to be present at a dinner where the Encyclopedist s bust, done by Houdon, was to be unveiled, he refused. Later, under pretext of some errand or other at the city hall, he went to see the bust by himself, 24

There is no record of where or from whom Diderot received his elementary schooling. Indeed, there is almost no testimony extant concerning his earliest years, save that his daughter wrote after his death that from his tenderest years he gave evidence of extreme sensibility: when he was three years old


DIDEROT S FAMILY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD 15

he was taken to a public execution and came back from it so upset that he was attacked by a violent jaundice. 25 There are in his works occasional allusions to his early days, as when, criticizing the figures in a landscape by Hubert Robert, he remarked that a Swiss guard in the picture was stiff and precisely like those given me one New Year s, when I was small ; 26 or when he observed, perhaps in recollection of his childhood and of the ramparts of Langres, that it is characteristic of children to love to climb; 27 or when, writ ing in the Encyclopedic of the vagaries of orthography, he declared that we get accustomed to pronouncing one language and writing another, a bizarre state of affairs which has made so many tears flow in childhood. 28 Perhaps much of his elementary education he received in his own home, for he wrote late in life that arithmetic was one of the first things my parents taught me. 29 Regardless of how the young Diderot achieved his knowledge of the three R s, by the time he was ten he was qualified to begin his secondary edu cation and in November 1723 (most probably) was enrolled in the lowest form of the Jesuit college at Langres. 30

The Jesuits exercised in Langres a monopoly of secondary education, just as they frequently did elsewhere in Catholic Christendom. 31 They achieved this pre-eminence as a result of the excellence of their teachers and their emphasis upon the more humane letters, the Latin and Greek which had stood so high in the estimation of cultivated men ever since the Humanists had revived the love of ancient letters. By this emphasis the Jesuits, who were the prime instruments of the Catholic Church in the Counter Reforma tion, once again showed their cleverness. For in their rigidly standardized curriculum the Ratio studiorum that elaborately regulated Jesuit educa tion everywhere had been promulgated in 1599 excellent instruction in the ancient literatures was combined with considerable attention to Catholic devotions and thus, from the point of view of the Church, humanistic learning was prevented from becoming too secular.

From his home at Number 6, an edifice still standing and now adorned with a commemorative plaque, the schoolboy Diderot would walk the few steps across the Place Chambeau to the Jesuit college, which stood just off the square at the head of a street since named for him. 32 The college was de stroyed by fire in 1746, but was quickly replaced by the present building which also bears his name. In 1770 Diderot referred to it as renowned. It had quite a numerous clientele, perhaps 180 or 200 in the six forms, all of them day students, most of them (but by no means all) from Langres, and coming from diverse social backgrounds, astonishing if one considers what was usual in the tightly knit society of the ancien regime. There were noble-


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

men as well as scions of the upper and lower middle classes, and there was also, in Diderot s own form, the son of a tinker. 33 Throughout his life Diderot showed an ability to esteem men for what they were by nature rather than what they were by rank, and it is not impossible that the relatively democratic conditions of his schooling habituated him to such a point of

view.

Although Diderot was a sensitive child, he was also a robust one, and in later years he liked to recall the Spartan aspects of his early education, much as nineteenth-century Americans were prone to expatiate on the part played by the little red schoolhouse and the McGuflfey readers in making a nation great and keeping its manners pure. Remembering the scars of ten slingshot hits on his forehead, he wrote: Such was provincial education in my time. Two hundred boys would divide themselves into two armies. It was not rare for children, seriously injured, to have to be carried off to their parents. ... I remember that . . . my comrades and I got the idea of de molishing one of the bastions of my town and passing Holy Week in prison/ And then, carried away as he so often was by a sort of chain reaction of associations, and evidently remembering some childhood rival who had aroused his distaste, he apostrophized an imaginary Athenian who did not approve of an education that was so Spartan and untrammeled: *You recoil at the sight of their disheveled hair and torn clothes. Yet I was that way when I was young, and I was pleasing pleasing to even the women and girls of my home town in the provinces. They preferred me, without a hat and with chest uncovered, sometimes without shoes, in a jacket and with feet bare, me, son of a worker at a forge, to that little well-dressed monsieur, all curled and powdered and dressed to the nines, the son of the presiding judge of the bailiwick court. . . . They could see in my buttonhole the token of my attainments in study, and a boy who revealed his soul by frank and open words and who knew better how to give a blow with his fist than how to make a bow, pleased them more than a foolish, cowardly, false, and effeminate little toady/ 34

Diderot was never above showing off for the girls, and one of his reminiscences, inspired by this theme and referring to his youthful days in Paris, has the incidental merit of giving us some notion of his congenital endowments, at least so far as muscular co-ordination is concerned. 1 was young, he wrote. I was in love, and very much in love. I was living with some fellows from Provence who danced from dusk to dawn, and from dusk to dawn took the hand of the girl I loved and embraced her right under my eyes. Add to this that I was jealous. I decide to learn to dance. From the


DIDEROT S FAMILY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD 17

Rue de la Harpe to the far end of the Rue Montmartre I surreptitiously go for lessons. I keep going to the same dancing master for a long time. Then I leave him, out of vexation over having learned nothing. I take him up a second, a third time, and leave off with as much vexation and with just as little success. What was lacking in me to be a proficient dancer? An ear for it? I had an excellent one. Lightness? I wasn t heavy on my feet, far from it. Motive? One could scarcely be animated by one more violent. What didn t I have? Malleability, flexibility, gracefulness qualities that cannot be had for the asking.

But after having done everything to no purpose in order to learn how to dance, I learned without difficulty to fence very passably, and without any other motive than that of pleasing myself/ 35

At his books Diderot was evidently an apt and quick pupil. Although in later years he became extremely critical of the value of this education, his youthful proficiency in it is attested by documents still extant. 36 In the museum at the Hotel du Breuil in Langres is a parchment certificate, or bene merenti, signed by the prefect of studies and probably dating from August 1728, in which Diderot is called an ingeniosum adolescentem who in public exercises had explained and elucidated passages from Quintus Curtius and Horace, with the praise and applause of all ( cum lauds plausuque omnium ). There are also in the same museum two quarto volumes of some six hundred pages each, a history of the Catholic Church in Japan by the Reverend Father Grasset, S. J., which Diderot won as prizes. These edifying volumes, suspiciously fresh and new, with the virginal appearance, even after two centuries, that books won as prizes are apt to have, bear inscriptions on their flyleaves indicating that Denis Diderot, a young man to be commended on many counts (adolcscens multiplici nomine commendandus ) , had received them on 3 August 1728 as a reward for securing the second prize in Latin verses and the second prize in transla tion. It is perhaps of this occasion that Diderot was thinking when he wrote to Sophie Volland: One of the sweetest moments of my life it happened more than thirty years ago, though I remember it as though it were yester day was when my father saw me coming home from school with my arms laden with the prizes I had won and around my neck the academic crowns that I had been given and which, too large for my brow, had let my head pass through. From the farthest distance that he saw me, he left his work, came to the door, and began to weep/ 37

It is always interesting to seek in a mature person the abiding traces of his early education. In the mature Diderot one can perceive, though in an


o DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

extremely contorted and inverted shape, the influence of the religious in struction imparted by his family and by the Jesuits. But much more easily seen, quite pellucid in the continuity of its effect upon him, is his classical education, reflected in the frequency of his allusions to ancient authors, ^in his enjoyment of the fine points of Latinity and in his fondness for in dulging in exegetics, in the trust he reposes in the ancient languages as a semantic guide, and, most important of all, in his conviction that in the ancient authors is to be found the acme in genius, in good manners, and in

taste.

References to classic authors are abundant in Diderot s writings and fre quently go beyond the casual quotation and passing allusion to be ex pected in an author whose range was encyclopedic. About 1775 Diderot wrote for Catherine II a Plan for a University for the Government of Rus sia, 5 in the course of which he devoted several pages to comments about in struction in Greek and Latin, and incidentally showed how familiar he was with the idiom and manner of various classic authors. 38 He wrote of his own experience with the classics: Several years in succession I was as religious about reading a book of Homer before going to bed as a conscientious priest is about reciting his breviary. At an early age I sucked up the milk of Homer, Virgil, Horace, Terence, Anacreon, Plato, and Euripides, diluted with that of Moses and the prophets.* 39 And of Homer in particular he wrote: Let me be pardoned for the little grain of incense I burn before the statue of a master to whom I owe what I am worth, if I am worth any thing/ 40 As a result of his love of the classics, Diderot wrote a long com mentary on the works of Seneca; inspired and corrected a critical edition of Lucretius; 41 elucidated difficult passages in Horace and Virgil; 42 ac claimed himself as the sacristan in the church of Pliny s Latinity; 43 wrote an appreciative estimation (indeed, it is one of Diderot s best pieces) of Terence; 44 annotated and commented upon the satires of the very difficult Persius; 45 and composed in Latin numerous inscriptions for statues and public buildings.

The abiding influence of an education founded on the classics and fre quently demanding the use of spoken Latin in the classroom, with a cor responding outlawing of the vernacular, is also revealed in Diderot s in teresting advice upon how to learn to read a foreign language. In his own article Encyclopedia, which he wrote for the fifth volume of the Encyclo- fedie, he declared, in speaking of linguistic and grammatical matters, that Nothing can be more poorly conceived for a Frenchman who knows Latin than to learn English from an English-French dictionary instead of having


DIDEROT S FAMILY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD 19

recourse to an English-Latin dictionary. . . . Furthermore, I speak ac cording to my own experience. This method turned out very well for me. 46

Diderot s allusions to his childhood are few but full of flavor. In 1773 he was trying to puzzle out a difficult passage in Horace and using the evi dence of some very unusual words and constructions. This recalled to him the days of his boyhood and the circumstances of his early education. When I used to study Latin under the iron rule of the public schools, a trap that I used to set for my teacher, and one that always worked, was to employ these strange turns of expression. He would cry out against them, he would storm at me, and when he had completely committed himself, what with storming and crying out, I would show by a little quotation that all his abusive remarks applied to Virgil, Cicero, or Tacitus. 47

The perversity of the gifted young has ever been the despair and the secret pride of the teacher.


CHAPTER 2


Diderot Becomes an Abbe and Goes to Paris


A s

JT\,i


s THE years went by and young Diderot flourished , in learning, the question naturally arose as to what should be his career. There was a moment, but only a moment, in which it seemed possible that he might follow his father s trade. For Diderot, impatient of the remonstrances and corrections of his teachers, told his father one day that he didn t want to go to school any more.

Well, then, do you want to be a cutler?

With all my heart.

So he put on the workshop apron and started in by his father s side. As his daughter tells the story, he spoiled everything he touched, knives, pen knives everything. This ended in four or five days when he got up one morning, climbed upstairs to his room, took his books, and went back to school. I can stand impatience better than boredom, he said. 1

For persons who know only the Diderot of later life a spirited and emphatic freethinker it will come as a surprise to learn that at the age of thirteen he signified in a solemn ceremony his intention of becoming a priest. On 22 August 1736, the Bishop of Langres conferred the tonsure on Denis Diderot, a rite consisting of cutting off some locks of the candidate s hair in the form of a cross, the while the future ecclesiastic reads some verses from the Fifteenth Psalm. 2 As a result of this ceremony, Diderot was en titled to be addressed as Abbe and was expected to wear an abb& char acteristic attire, which consisted not of a soutane worn by priests, but black smallclothes, a short mantle, and an ecclesiastical collar with its white tabs. Thus he became for a time a member of a very numerous class of persons in eighteenth-century French life, for abbes, many of whom never proceeded to holy orders but all of whom were eligible for ecclesiastical benefices, were conspicuous features of the social landscape.


DIDEROT BECOMES AN ABBE AND GOES TO PARIS 21

There is nothing to show that young Diderot went through this ceremony against his will. The timing of the ceremony, in all probability, was de termined by the hope entertained by Diderot s relatives that he would be allowed to succeed to the lucrative prebend that his uncle, Canon Didier Vigneron, occupied at the local Cathedral of Saint-Mammes. Perhaps be cause of this consideration Diderot took the tonsure at so early an age, for it was extremely unusual and somewhat irregular, although not precisely un- canonical, to undergo this ceremony before the age of fourteen.

These hopes, however, presently foundered. Canon Vigneron found that his chapter objected to his being succeeded by his young nephew. To circum vent them the Canon went through the proper legal forms for handing over his prebend to the Pope in favor of Denis Diderot, tonsured cleric of the diocese of Langres, fourteen years and six months old, and no other. But five hours after he had sent his representative off to Rome, die Canon died. Apparently his demission was not binding unless the Pope had accepted it while the Canon was still alive. The chapter immediately elected someone else, and the hopes of that career went glimmering. 3

Soon afterwards, Diderot, influenced of course by his teachers in the Jesuit college where he was becoming markedly successful, began to think of becoming a Jesuit himself. It may have been about this time, too, that he underwent the stress of a devout religious experience. His daughter states that for four or five months during the time that Diderot was desirous of becoming a Jesuit, he fasted, wore a hair shirt, and slept on straw. 4 The following passage from his novel James the Fatalist, written in 1773, may therefore be autobiographical in nature: There comes a moment during which almost every girl or boy falls into melancholy; they are tormented by a vague inquietude which rests on everything and finds nothing to calm it. They seek solitude; they weep; the silence to be found in cloisters attracts them; the image of peace that seems to reign in religious houses seduces them. They mistake the first manifestations of a developing sexual nature for the voice of God calling them to Himself; and it is precisely when nature is inciting them that they embrace a fashion of life contrary to nature s wish. 5 It is piquant to learn that Diderot went through such a religious crisis, because in later life he is always assuming the pose, like Lucretius ip. the beginning pages of De Rerum Natura, of freeing men from fear of the gods. Yet even in these later years he now and again felt the tug of a previous persuasion. For instance, he wrote in 1765 of the necessity, in per petuating a doctrine and an institution, for having concrete symbols that appeal to the imagination through the senses, and he gives as an example


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

the exaltation of the multitude at a Corpus Christi processional, an exalta tion that sometimes lays hold of even me. I have never seen that long file of priests in their sacerdotal robes, those young acolytes garbed in their white albs, girt up with their wide blue sashes, and casting flowers before the Holy Sacrament; the crowd that precedes and follows them in a religious silence; so many men with their heads bowed down to earth; I have never heard that solemn and affecting plain song of the priests, affectionately re plied to by an infinity of voices of men, women, girls, and children, without my feelings being deeply moved and without tears coming to my eyes/ 6

Apparently it was young Diderot s desire to join the Jesuits that led to his departure from Langres for the rest of his schooling. His daughter, Mme de Vandeul, declares that Diderot intended to leave surreptitiously in company with a Jesuit, but that his father, warned by one of Diderot s cousins, waited up on the appointed night and made an unexpected appear ance just as Diderot was creeping down the stairs. To the question as to where he was going at this midnight hour, Diderot replied, To Paris, where I am bound to enter the Jesuits.

It won t be tonight, though your desires will be accomplished. But first let us get some sleep. 7

It is a little hard to believe that an order of the dignity of the Jesuits would recruit its members quite so melodramatically. Mme de VandeuPs extremely valuable account of her father, written in the year of his death, can frequently be proved aberrant in details, although it is so accurate in the main that she has become the ghost writer of many a later biography of Diderot, Her source of information was of course her father, who was not the sort of man to mar a tale in the telling. There may be some exaggeration in this anecdote, just as there is in the statement that he gravely made in an article written for the Encyclopedic claiming that his grandmother had had twenty-two children, and by the time she was thirty-three years of age! 8 A personal acquaintance named Taillefer published an account of Diderot only one year after his death, and though this document, too, must be taken with caution, the Taillefer and Vandeul accounts provide some op portunity for reciprocal control. With reference to Diderot s joining the Jesuits, Taillefer says nothing of any attempted flight from Langres.

There is something of a mystery here. Indeed, it may even be that Diderot had fallen out with the Jesuits and that this caused him to go to Paris for the balance of his education. Evidence for such a view is found in something written by Jacques-Andre Naigeon, the familiar of Diderot during the last twenty years of his life and his would-be Boswell. In the


DIDEROT BECOMES AN ABBE AND GOES TO PARIS 23

year o Diderot s death, Naigeon asked Diderot s daughter and her husband for information about e the quarrel with the Jesuits, the context perhaps implying that this occurred before he went to Paris. M. Naigeon desires to write the life of M. Diderot/ wrote the son-in-law, [and] persecutes me to give him an exact and very detailed memorandum of the precise date of his birth and the principal events of the philosopher s youth, of his early studies, of his leaving the college, of the quarrel with the Jesuits, of his age when he was sent to Paris, how many years he stayed at the College d Harcourt, how many at the College de Bourgogne, and with the lawyer M. Clement de Ris, his adventures with Mme Frejacques, Mile La Salette, etc. . . . 10 We should like to know more about that quarrel with the Jesuits and when it occurred. As it stands, it is just another one of the little- known incidents in a career which was often and surprisingly inscrutable.

At all events and for whatever reason, Diderot left Langres for Paris, probably in the autumn of 1728, but possibly in 1729, his business being to finish his last year of study, his rhetoric/ in what would now be called a lycee.^ Thus began the great adventure, the first going-away-from-home. There is no indication of his being reluctant to leave Langres, save perhaps for some sentimental thoughts about Mile La Salette (a Langres girl born the same year as he and who, in the course of years, became the mother of the man who was to marry Diderot s daughter), or about another, but unidentified, girl of Langres who made a sufficiently lasting impression to cause him to mention her in a letter to Sophie Volland thirty years later. 12 His father accompanied him. Down the valley of the Marne they rode my melancholy and tortuous compatriot, the Marne/ he later called it 13 traveling, if they went by the slow coach, seven days to reach Paris. 14

At Paris, Diderot s father made the necessary arrangements for his son s settling into school, took his leave as though he were going to depart from the city, and then stayed on in Paris a fortnight just to make certain that all was going well. Having then been reassured by young Diderot that he was happy and wanted to stay, and by his son s principal that the boy was an excellent student even though they had had to discipline him, the father went back to his knives and lancets at Langres. These incidents are completely in character, both for father and son. For young Diderot had thoughtlessly and big-heartedly undertaken to do someone else s work. He obliged a disconsolate fellow-student who was reluctant to address himself to the assignment of putting the serpent s seductive speech to Eve into Latin verse. Diderot s verses were good too good to have been done by the lad who was supposed to do them. Both students were very roughly handled/


24 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

wrote Mme de Vandeul, and my father gave up others business to occupy himself henceforth exclusively with his own/ 16

A new phase of his career had begun and a lasting one, for he was to be a Parisian to the end of his days.

  • *****

From the time when he was about sixteen and went to Paris until the time when, at twenty-nine, he was already embarked on a career of letters and was desirous of getting married, little is precisely known of Diderot and of where and how he spent his time. This period of his life is a docu mentary desert, filled with shimmering mirages of assertion and whimsy, with widely spaced waterholes of verifiable fact upon which the panting searcher stumbles when just about to expire. By the year 1742 it becomes possible to follow his career with some certainty, but meanwhile some thirteen of the most important formative years of his life are shrouded and obscure. Diderot himself seldom spoke of them and, indeed, seems almost intentionally inscrutable about this period. It is amazing that no memoir writer contemporary with Diderot was able to recollect a youthful acquaint ance with a man who was constantly resident in the nation s capital and who subsequently became so famous. Yet neither friend nor enemy has spoken from certain, personal knowledge of these years. The earliest notice of him recorded by a contemporary refers to the year 1742.

This account occurs in the memoirs of Johann Georg Wille, a German who lived most of his life in Paris and became one of the most celebrated en gravers of the century. His likeness is preserved for us in a magnificent portrait by Greuze, which Diderot himself pronounced to be very beauti ful and very like. 16 In the year in which they met, Wille rented lodgings in the Rue de TObservance, now called the Rue Antoine-Dubois, a very short street which at one end ascends by a stairway to the Rue MonsJeur-le- Prince and on the other looked out on the College de Bourgogne, the site of which is now occupied by the Ecole de Medecine. 1 was curious to know who might be my neighbors in the house/ wrote Wille, c and, in order to find out, I went downstairs to my landlord s rooms where by chance I found a very affable young man who in the ensuing conversation informed me that he was seeking to become a proficient man of letters and a still better phi losopher, if that was possible; he added that he would be very happy to make my acquaintance, the more because he esteemed artists and loved the arts, because he thought we were of the same age, and because, moreover, he already knew that we were neighbors, I gave him a handclasp and from that moment we were friends. This young man was M. Diderot, since be-


DIDEROT BECOMES AN ABBE AND GOES TO PARIS 25

come famous. He occupied the entresol the floor beneath me, had a beautiful library there, and with pleasure lent me the books that might give pleasure


to me. 5 17


This makes an engaging and attractive picture. A present-day reader, knowing that this is the picture of a young man about to enter a prodigious career of intellectual virtuosity, and realizing how little is known of the previous formative period, when this mind was broadening its range and deepening its mastery, is tantalized by this fleeting view into those misty years. What experiences had Diderot had to engender and confirm these tastes in philosophy and the arts ? How much formal schooling had he had, and in what institutions of learning? How had he supported himself or been supported during all this time?

Even the school he entered on coming to Paris is a matter of conjecture. The evidence is conflicting and confused. A much younger contemporary says that Diderot entered the famous College Louis-le-Grand, the school where Voltaire was educated and whose imposing buildings still stand, just across the Rue Saint-Jacques from the Sorbonne. 18 Diderot s daughter and Naigeon declare that he entered the College d Harcourt on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, just across from the Place de la Sorbonne, where the Lycee Saint- Louis now stands. 19 But his daughter also says that he was a school chum of the future Cardinal de Bernis, who indubitably was a student at Louis-le- Grand. 20 This conflicting testimony has touched off a controversy among scholars, nurtured by the fact that the Colleges records for those years are no longer extant. One authority even argues for the College de Beauvais. 21 The recently published inquiry made by Naigeon of Diderot s daughter and son-in-law in 1784, previously alluded to, would seem to settle the matter in favor of the College d Harcourt, but opens up an entirely new vista in suggesting that Diderot was also a student at the College de Bourgogne. The matter may be summarized by saying that it is extremely improbable that Diderot attended Louis-le-Grand exclusively, if he attended it at all. He probably went to the College d Harcourt instead, but he could very possibly have attended both.

The point is more important than it may seem at first. If it were possible to know with certainty to what college in Paris Diderot belonged, then one could know whether in the important years when he was being introduced to formal philosophy, studied according to the scholastic method with its em phasis on metaphysics and categories and universals and with its strong tincture (at that time) of Cartesianism, he was being taught to see things from the Jesuit or the Jansenist point of view. For Louis-le-Grand was a


26 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

Jesuit college, whereas the College d Harcourt was an active center of Jansenism. 22 Those who dip into the study of seventeenth- and eighteenth- century France quickly become aware that a chronic struggle went on within the Catholic Church between these two factions. Moreover, in a society where Church was as closely knit with State as it was during the ancien regime, these theological disagreements had grave political repercussions. In the early and middle eighteenth century it was scarcely possible for any thinking Frenchman to avoid taking a position, even though publicly un- avowed, in these disputes. Jansenist and Jesuit cordially hated each other, and freethinkers scoffed at both.

The Jansenists took their name from Cornelis Jansen (1585-1638), Bishop of Ypres. They constituted a puritanical and fundamentalist sect within the Catholic Church, which by the time of the latter years of Louis XIV seemed to be losing out to the Jesuits. The King, seeking uniformity and orthodoxy, asked the Pope to settle the dispute once for all. The answer was the papal bull Unigenitus, promulgated in 1713, which declared heretical 101 propositions set forth in a popular Jansenist book of devotions. But in stead of settling the dispute, the bull only served to inflame it. The Pope s action was resented by many as too great an interference in French domestic affairs. Nevertheless, the energetic measures of the government to secure acceptance of the bull forced the Jansenists undercover. They even published an underground newspaper, Les Nouvelks EccUsiastiques, which, in spite of the determined efforts of the police, appeared with mocking and impish regularity right up to its discontinuation in 1803. Ascetic and dour, stubborn in adversity and embittered by it, the Jansenists were not the most broad- minded people of their time. Both sides shocked the liberals of the century, who feared the authoritarian proclivities of the one as much as those of the other.

Which group, then, shaped Diderot s thinking during his college years? Inasmuch as it is known that he was awarded the degree of master of arts in the University of Paris on 2 September 1732, indicating a formal schooling of some years duration at Paris, it is possible to argue that Diderot trans ferred from the one college to the other following his rhetoric* and before his philosophy. 2 * This conjecture has the advantage of reconciling con flicting accounts. It makes it possible for Diderot to have known the future Cardinal Bernis at the Jesuit Louis-le-Grand, as Mme de Vandcul says he did, and to have sat there under the famous teacher, Father Poree, as Diderot claims in his Letter on the Deaf and Dumb, and still to have been a student at the Jansenist College d Harcourt, as his daughter and Naigeon declare


DIDEROT BECOMES AN ABBE AND GOES TO PARIS 27

he was. 24 Yet another purpose can be served by this convenient conjecture. Diderot s general editorial policy, as well as the articles he himself wrote for the Encyclopedic, reveal a very considerable familiarity with exegetics, but without any special fondness or predilection for them. Therefore, could not the hypothesis that he attended both Jesuit and Jansenist colleges lead to the further one that, having become familiar with the point of view of each, he found himself repelled by both, so that instead of inclining him to the one or the other, each canceled the other out?

What he did immediately after receiving the master of arts degree is no less uncertain. Although it has generally been presumed that he thereupon discontinued his formal schooling, there is nothing in the evidence that de mands that this be so. The account his daughter gives of his adventures implies that by this time Diderot, if he ever had the intention of studying for the priesthood, had given it up. This, too, tallies with Naigeon s testimony that while Diderot was a student at the College d Harcourt he stopped wearing his ecclesiastical attire. 25 Documents show that twice during this crepuscular period of Diderot s life he considered entering the law, one document re ferring to the year 1736 and the other to about i7 4 i. 26 Mme de Vandeul s account is probably accurate as far as it goes, although the biographer might well wish, with a sigh, for greater precision in dates: His studies completed, his father wrote to M. Clement de Ris, a solicitor at Paris and a fellow townsman, to take him into the household and have him study law. He stayed there two years; but the searching of deeds and the listing of in ventories had few attractions for him. All the time he could steal from his employer was used in studying Latin and Greek, which he thought he did not sufficiently know; mathematics, which he always passionately loved; Italian, English, etc. Finally he gave himself up to his taste for letters to such a point that M. Clement felt he ought to inform his friend of the poor use his son was making of his time. Thereupon my grandfather expressly charged M. Clement to propose a profession to his son, to induce him to make his choice promptly, and to engage him to be a doctor, a solicitor, or a barrister. My father asked for time to think it over, and was granted it. After some months, the propositions were renewed. Then he said that the profession of doctor did not please him, he did not want to kill any one; that the profession of solicitor was too difficult to perform scrupulously; that he would gladly choose the profession of barrister, save that he had an unconquerable aversion to busying himself all his life with other people s affairs.

  • "But," said M. Clement to him, "what do you want to be, then?"


2 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

"Ma foi, nothing, nothing at all. I like study; I am very well off, very happy; I don t ask anything else." Thereupon Diderot s father cut off his allowance and demanded that he either choose a profession or come home within the week. Diderot left the house of the solicitor, so as not to put him to any expense, and, says Mme de Vandeul, lived the next ten years on

his own. 27

At some time during this decade Diderot was a tutor in the household of a wealthy financier named Randon. But Diderot was not of the temperament to enjoy such confining work: "Monsieur, look at me. A lemon is less yellow than my complexion. I am making men of your children, but each day I become a child with them. I am a thousand times too rich and too well off in your house, but I must leave it. The object of my desires is not to live better, but just not to die." J 2S

All this is completely in character and entirely credible. It shows Diderot s love of independence, his hatred of constraint. And it shows, too, a sort of lack of fondness for children which is also to be seen or sensed in his writings, even though he once asserted in middle life that he was very fond of old men and children. Diderot was constantly letting his feelings pour forth in jets of enthusiasm, but one can look long and far that one instance excepted for him to express any great enthusiasm for children and child hood, except, of course, his own. 29 And not even his own daughter seems to have interested him much until she began to make precocious remarks which gave him hope that she possessed an interesting and original mind. He seems to have pitied the state of childhood its helplessness, its limited outlook, its wrong conclusions logically derived from false premises but he did not admire it.

Aside from two years accounted for at the solicitor s and three months being a tutor at the financier s, Diderot, according to his daughter s account, was on the town. He passed ten whole years . . having no other resource than those very sciences that were earning him the disapprobation of his father. He gave lessons in mathematics; if the pupil was quick ... he would teach him the whole day long; but if he found a stupid pupil, he would not go back. He was paid in books, in furniture, in linen, in money, or not at all; it was all the same to him. He wrote sermons. A missionary ordered six from him for the Portuguese colonies and paid fifty cu$ apiece for them. My father thought this affair one of the best he ever brought off.* so

This testimony bespeaks a precarious existence. Now and again he was able in other ways to supplement the income he derived from giving lessons. For example, he tells us that he prepared the general formula and mathe-


DIDEROT BECOMES AN ABBE AND GOES TO PARIS 2Q

matical tables for a treatise published in 1741 on gnomonics, the science of sundials. 31 This task presupposes considerable mathematical competence and accuracy, and it is to be presumed, although not certainly so, that he was paid for it. Moreover, the censor s approbation of Diderot s translation of Temple Stanyan s Grecian History, dated 25 May 1742, proves that he had prepared the manuscript before that time, and for this translation he probably received something in advance. 32 Still, his was evidently a Bo hemian, hand-to-mouth existence, provided that, as will be discussed later, he did not spend some of these ten years in formal theological studies. Diderot s daughter is emphatic that her grandfather sent no money to his recalcitrant son, although his mother, more tender and more compliant, sent him some louis, not by the post nor by friends, but by a maid servant who did the sixty leagues on foot, delivered to him the small sum from his mother, adding to it, without mentioning it, all her own savings, and then walked back the sixty leagues in return. This woman carried out this com mission on three occasions. 83

With an income so uncertain and evidently operating in geyserlike intervals of fast and feast, it is not surprising to learn that sometimes his cupboard was bare. One Shrove Tuesday, a day when, like Christmas in America, absent youths were particuarly likely to be homesick, Diderot arose to find that he had absolutely no money with which to buy dinner. Not wanting to disturb his friends upon such a day, he tried unsuccessfully to work, and then went out for a long walk. He came back to his tavern; upon entering, he sat down and felt ill. The landlady gave him a little toast soaked in wine, and he went to bed. "That day," he told me, "I swore that if ever I possessed anything, never in my life would I refuse something to an indigent person, in order not to condemn any fellow man of mine to put in a day as dis tressing as that." 34

Diderot was not averse to receiving aid from fellow townsmen, knowing that his father would pay up. There is documentary evidence of this having occurred in 1736. On 20 August of that year, a man formerly from Langres named Foucou fifteen years later Diderot acknowledged in his Encyclo- fSdie article on Steel the helpful information contributed by M. Foucou, previously a cutler signed a receipt for thirty-eight livres received from Diderot s father by the hands of Brother Angel, a Barefooted Carmelite friar. On the same receipt Didier Diderot wrote: This is the final receipt of the amount agreed upon with M. Foucou of Paris. I wrote him on 23 May 1736 not to advance anything to Diderot nor to take him into his house; that he ought to remain with the solicitor. . . . Therefore there will


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

be no making it up to him [Foucou] if he [Diderot] stays with him at all, for it is against my wishes. 1 35

Need sometimes brought Diderot close to roguishness. Mme de Vandeul tells a long story of how Diderot convinced Brother Angel, the Carmelite friar mentioned above, a man who also came originally from Langres and was a distant relative of the Diderots, that he intended to become a friar m Brother Angel s monastery. On that understanding Diderot received pay ments amounting to some two thousand livres. When at last Brother Angel showed that he would advance no more, Diderot said to him, Brother Angel, then you don t want to give me any more money?"

1 "Assuredly not."

"Well, then, I don t want to be a Carmelite any more. Write to my father and get yourself paid." 36 Both Diderot and his daughter thought this sort of panhandling clever.

During the nine or ten years between the time of receiving a master of arts degree at the University of Paris and his writing the earliest of his letters now extant, Diderot existed in what to posterity has seemed a penumbra of obscurity. But the person whom Wille found so attractive has left scattered in his works various allusions to his tastes and to his doings in those early years, which help in some measure to answer the question of what manner of man he was on the eve of his public career. In the first place, it is probable that his greatest single intellectual competence lay at that time in the field of mathematics. When he published in 1748 his highly respected Memoires sur differens sujets de mathimatiqucs, he wrote in the Fifth Memoir, in which he made some corrections in Newton s cal culations of the effect on pendulums of the resistance of air: It is true that I studied Newton with the intention of elucidating him; I shall even con fess to you that this work was pushed on, if not with great success, at least with adequate vivacity; but that I no longer gave it a thought from the time that the Reverend Fathers Le Seur and Jacquier published their Commentary [1739], and I have not been tempted to take it up again.* 3T

In the second place, his random recollections show that during these early years he haunted the theater and was much enamored of acting -and actresses. Evidently, too, he deemed it possible that he could have made his living on the stage: *I myself, when I was young, hesitated between the Sorbonne and the Comedie. In winter, in the worst sort of weather, I used to recite roles from Moliere and Corneille out loud in the solitary walks of the Luxembourg. What did I have in mind? To be applauded? Perhaps. To live on familiar terms with women of the theater, whom I found infinitely


DIDEROT BECOMES AN ABBE AND GOES TO PARIS 3!

lovable and whom I knew to be of very easy virtue? Assuredly. I don t know what I wouldn t have done to be pleasing to la Gaussin, who made her debut about that time and who was beauty personified; or to la Dangeville, who had so many attractive qualities on the stage. 38

The excitement that young Diderot found in going to the theater is well depicted in a passage that he wrote in 1758: Fifteen years ago our theaters were places of tumult. The coolest heads began to get heated upon entering them, and grave men shared there, more or less, the transports of giddy ones. . . . People moved about, fidgeted, jostled one another, one s soul was quite beside itself. . . . The piece began with difficulty and was often interrupted, but let a fine passage come along and there was an incredible tumult, encores were demanded endlessly, and people enthused over the actor and the actress. The enthusiasm passed from the pit to the dress circle, and from the dress circle to the boxes. People had come with ardor, they left in a state of intoxication: some went to visit the girls, others scattered themselves in society; it was like a thunderstorm which passes over, spending itself afar, but the mutterings of which last a long while after it has passed by. That is what pleasure is like/ 39

Sometimes, as Diderot recalls in his Letter on the Deaf and Dumb, his interest in the stage was a little more philosophical and shall we say unconventional: Formerly I used to visit the theater very often, and I knew most of our good plays by heart. On the days when I proposed to study movements and gestures, I went to the third-class boxes, for the farther I was from the actors the better I was placed. As soon as the curtain went up ... I would put my fingers into my ears, not without some astonish ment on the part of those round about me ... and stubbornly kept my ears stopped up as long as the action of the actor appeared to me to be in harmony with the lines that I was remembering. I listened only when I was thrown off the track by the gestures on stage, or thought I was/ And Diderot recalled with amusement the redoubled surprise of the people round him when they saw me shed tears in the pathetic parts, and that with my ears continuously stopped/ 40

As a footnote to his love for the theater and his love of ideas, it may fairly be conjectured that Diderot often visited the Cafe Procope, for until 1770 the old Comedie-Franfaise was located just across the street. The Procope, then a famous center for actors, playwrights, academicians, and other men of letters, is now reopened and operating at the old stand, 13, Rue de PAncienne Comedie. In its eighteenth-century heyday it was fully as famous as the Dome and the Rotonde in the youthful days of Hemingway


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

32 j-

and Ezra Pound or the Caffi de Flore when Sartre was frequenting it, and it

seems hardly possible that Diderot was not among the Procope s patrons.

From scattered allusions in his later works, we can get some impression o Diderot s manner and appearance at this time. He was a young man of large frame -a friend later said of him that he was built like a chair-man or porter 42 - and well set up. He wore his own hair, which was blond, heavy, and thick, and he was, then as always, careless of dress, for he recalls in his Rameau s Nephew the days when he gave lessons in mathematics and wore an overcoat of gray shag, all played out on one side, with one of the sleeves torn- and black woolen stockings mended at the back with white thread/ 43 Moreover, he evidently liked to tease the girls: as he looked at Greuze s portrait of Mme Greuze, exhibited in the Salon of 1765, Diderot remembered when she was a girl in her father s bookshop on the Quai des Grands- Augustins, bordering the Seine. Diderot entered the shop one day, with that lively, ardent, and daft manner I used to have.

"Mademoiselle, La Fontaine s Fables, and a Petronius, if you please/

"Here they are, Monsieur. Are there any other books you d like?"

"I beg your pardon, Mademoiselle, but . . ."

"Don t be hesitant."

"ThcNuninaShijt."

"Fie! Monsieur; do you suppose that one keeps in stock, that one reads,

nasty things like that?"

  • "Why! why! is that a nasty book, Mademoiselle? I didn t realize that!" 44

Finally, it may be conjectured with some assurance that Diderot took love where he could find it, a conclusion that might be drawn from his account, written in 1758, of an incident that would seem to have occurred in these early years: Oh! my dear friend, where is the time when I had long hair floating in the breeze? In the mornings, when my nightshirt collar was open and I took off my nightcap, my hair fell in great, disordered locks over well-knit and very white shoulders; and my neighbor would get up early in the morning from her husband s side, half-open the curtains of her window, intoxicate herself with the sight, and I would readily perceive what was going on. Twas thus that I seduced her from one side of the street to the other. When I was with her, for we came together at last, I acted with candor and innocence, with a manner gentle, simple, modest, and true. All has passed away, the blond hair, and the candor, and the innocence. 45 Diderot, it may be remarked, was always quite adequately appreciative


DIDEROT BECOMES AN ABBE AND GOES TO PARIS 33

of female charms. He was not, however, an unbridled libertine, even if the principal bridle was nothing more virtuous than a horror of venereal disease. He recalls, in a letter to Sophie Volland, how he escaped providentially from running the risk of it on two occasions that must date from these early times. I never think of it without having goose flesh/ he wrote. 46

Now, what about the possibility, preposterous though it seems, that Diderot spent some time as a graduate student of theology? By his own statement, he was balancing between the Sorbonne and the Comedie not long after Mile Gaussin made her debut at the Comedie-Frangaise, an event which took place on 28 April 1731. Diderot s reference to the Sorbonne was, of course, to the faculty of theology of the University of Paris, and it certainly is true that his degree of master of arts qualified him to take up advanced theological studies if he chose. Diderot says he wavered between a theologian s career and an actor s, and since the context of the passage shows that he did not go on the stage, it follows that it is possible that for a time he became instead a graduate student in theology. If only the register books of the faculty of theology were extant but unfortunately they have disappeared. 47

It should be recalled that Diderot was only nineteen years old when he re ceived his master of arts degree, and it therefore seems unlikely that his Father would have allowed him to go completely on his own. Of course, two Df these years were spent, according to the family tradition, as apprentice to a solicitor. But were they the two years immediately following the con- cerral of his degree in September 1732? Probably not, for Diderot s father, writing in May 1736, says that Diderot ought to remain with the solicitor. ^Jow, even if two of those intervening years had already been spent at the solicitor s, there is still a hiatus of some twenty months to be accounted for.

A statement in his father s will also gives color to the supposition that roung Diderot spent more years living off money sent him by his parents han Mme de VandeuFs story credits, for in that document, drawn up in 750, Didier Diderot remarks: Tou well know, you, Diderot the elder [son], he great expense I have been to for you these twenty years that you have een at Paris. If I added up nothing but what is of my certain knowledge, I ave sent you more than ten thousand livres, not including what your lother and your sisters sent you and the interest on this sum. . . . 48 Now, fhen it is recalled that board, room, and tuition at a place like Louis-le- hrand was only four hundred livres a year, it is easy to see that the purchasing ower of ten thousand livres could account for quite a few years in a student s fe. 49 Considering Diderot s relative youth, it seems not unlikely, therefore,


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 34

that he continued his schooling after 1732, possibly in theology; that per- haps if he did, he became disgusted with theological studies; and that then he and his father turned to the possibility of his becoming a solicitor.

Far more startling and sensational, however, is the probability that as late as about 1741 Diderot was seriously intending to become a doctor of theology. He himself alluded to it in a passage he wrote in the Salon of 1767. <I arrive in Paris, 5 he wrote. I was going to take the fur and install myself among the doctors of the Sorbonne. I meet a woman beautiful as an angel. I want to sleep with her. I do so. I have four children by her and there I am forced to give up Homer and Virgil, whom I always used to carry with me in my pocket; the theater, for which I had a fondness; very lucky to under take the Encyclopedic, for which I shall have sacrificed twenty-five years of

my life. 50

This passage needs explanation. In the first place, naming the Sorbonne was the usual way of referring not to the whole University of Paris, but only to its faculty of theology. In the second place, to take the fur was a locution that signified taking a university degree more advanced than the master of arts. 51 In the third place, to become a doctor of theology at the Sorbonne, one had to be a priest and have completed five years of theological studies after receiving the master of arts degree. 52 In the fourth place, Diderot did not meet his future wife before 1740 at the earliest. The nub of the problem, then, is this: is it possible to lend credence to the astonishing view that Diderot was engaged in, or at least intended to embark upon, advanced theological studies at as late an age as twenty-eight or twenty- nine? If so, it is a fact his daughter either did not know or took pains to

conceal.

Diderot s writings, especially his articles in the Encyclopedic, reflect great familiarity with theological sources and concepts, and this fact has been claimed as clear proof that he had engaged in advanced theological studies, 53 But although it is evident that Diderot could quote the Church Fathers with as much appositeness and skill as Anatole France and certainly knew his theology well enough not to blunder unwittingly into the innumerable pitfalls and booby traps of the thickly mined areas of theological contention, still the more we examine his writings, the less we feel justified in accepting this as incontrovertible proof of advanced study. A person hostile to Diderot might say of him, as Gibbon said of Saint Augustine, that his learning is too often borrowed and his arguments are too often his own. Therefore, the indirect argument, that internal evidence attests the advanced state of Diderot s theological studies, has some plausibility but is not incontestable.


DIDEROT BECOMES AN ABBE AND GOES TO PARIS 35

More material evidence is found in letters sent from Paris by Pierre La Salette of Langres. After writing on 10 August 1741 that the shirts Diderot had received from Langres were quite unsuitable. La Salette wrote again eight days later: He needs linen, the dear son! As for the rest, he is well fitted out for from now to i January, the time that he has reiterated to me for the execution of his promises/ 54 La Salctte s next letter, dated 4 Septem ber 1741, once more harps on linen, but it also reveals the nature of Diderot s promises: He has let me come to the conclusion that it would be better to send him the cloth for making shirts and collars instead of sending him the shirts and collars ready-made. I have examined his linen. He simply must have some: he was obliged to have the shirts that his dear mother sent him remade. . . . For the rest, he is very well and perseveres in his promises. Saint-Sulpice will be his residence on i January next. May God grant him the grace to carry it out for the satisfaction of his family, since it is the profession that he chooses and which no one has urged him to take in preference to all others. 55

These references to promises suggest that Diderot really was thinking of an ecclesiastical career when he met his future wife. The celebrated Paris seminary of the order of Saint-Sulpice, founded in 1641 and situated just opposite the famous Parisian church of that name, was at that time the best known and most popular seminary in France for the training of priests. Not organized as a monastery, its object was to prepare young clerics for holy orders and concomitant ecclesiastical functions. So prominent was it that, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, When the Revolution broke out the seminary of Paris alone had trained more than five thousand priests, and more than half the bishops who faced that dreadful tempest (about fifty) had been in Sulpician seminaries.

In the passage from the Salon of 1767, Diderot spoke of being a doctor at the Sorbonne and did not mention the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, of which Pierre La Salette wrote in 1741. Are these two bits of testimony therefore irreconcilable? Almost assuredly not; for, as we have already seen, one had to be an ordained priest to qualify for the doctorate of theology, and there was a close connection between the Sorbonne and the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice. This is demonstrated by a pertinent passage from one of the classics of French literature, published in 1731. In the History of Manon Lescaut, written by a man who was himself an abbe, the faithless Manon watches the young seminary student from Saint-Sulpice undergo his public examination in the school of theology at the Sorbonne. 56

It may be concluded, then, that Diderot really intended about the year


36 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

1741 to take up an ecclesiastical career. There is no evidence, however, that he ever actually did enter the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, only evidence that he said he intended to. Nor is there any evidence whatever that he xvas eager to enter this profession. On the contrary, he tells us in an autobio graphical passage written in 1773 or 1774 that in the classes of the University my masters could never conquer my disdain for the frivolities of Scholasti cism/ He devoured books of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, he tells us, and took pleasure in Homer, Virgil, Tasso, and Milton, but always coming back to mathematics, as an unfaithful husband, tired of his mistress, returns from time to time to his wife! * 67

This analogy, as characteristic of eighteenth-century manners as it was of Diderot himself, seems to show that if Diderot intended to become a priest, it was not precisely because he had what the Methodists term a call/ On the other hand, there is no evidence that at this early time in his life he was yet in flaming rebellion against the Church. It was not until years later that the necessities of philosophical consistency turned him against Christian belief. And it is quite possible that he contemplated the priest hood without either eagerness or reluctance. After all the ahM, supported by some benefice or commendam which provided for an untrammelcd life in secular society, was a very prominent element in the eightecwh<emury French scene. Perhaps, then, Diderot hoped to secure a benefice or sinecure that would allow him to enjoy both security and the pleasures of scholar ship; perhaps he was impressed by the fact that after all two priests were at that very moment publishing their monumental commentary cm Newton; perhaps he was ready at last to give up his precarious and necessitous inde pendence. At all events, meeting the girl whom he wanted to marry caused him to lay aside any plans he may have had for a career in which celibacy was a prerequisite, and presently Diderot was once again being urged fay his family to enter the law office of a solicitor.


CHAPTER 3


Clandestine Marriage


?T Jl


WAS about this time, in 1741,* wrote Mme de Vandeul in her memoir of her father, that he made the acquaintance of niy mother/ l

At this period Anne-Toinette Champion, who was bom at La Ferte- Bernard on 22 February 1710, and was in consequence three and a half years older than her future husband, was living with her widowed mother in very modest and straitened circumstances. 3 The family was a respectable one, even though stricken by indigence, Mme Champion, a widow with no property/ continued Mme de Vandeul, came to Paris with her daughter, then three years of age, A childhood friend of my grandmother gave her a place to stay, and my mother was put into the convent of the Miramiones in order to learn to work with sufficient skill to have no need of the assistance of anyone/ s At sixteen, she settled with her mother in a small apartment, and both of them carried on the business of dealing in lace and linen. . . My mother was tall, beautiful, pious, and modest* Various traders had wished to marry her; but she preferred her work and her liberty to marrying a husband whom she could not love*

  • My father * . , saw her and wanted to see her again. . . As he could

not pay his attentions so assiduously to my mother without some reason, he told the ladies that he was destined to become an ecclesiastic; that soon he would enter the Seminary of Saint-Nicolas; that he had need of a certain provision of linen, and he besought them to take charge of the matter/*

It docs not require a professional detective to deduce some close connection between the collars and shirts that Diderot persuaded Pierre La Salctte had to be done over and the fact that the Champion ladies were in that sort of business. Diderot s courtship* as a matter of fact, was an anticipation of the Hollywood boy-meets-girl formula, as he himself, in his later play wright days, seemed to realize. 10 his Father of a family, Diderot turned a

S7


o DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

3 8

fond and Narcissan gaze upon recollections o his earlier self. The reck less and impetuous Saint-Albin was modeled, Diderot told his daughter, on the young man who had courted Anne-Toinette. 5

It is a matter of interest, almost astonishment, that Diderot was able to convince so many people on so many occasions that he intended to become a priest or a monk. In Langres, while still a lad, he intended to become a Jesuit; in Paris, he convinced Brother Angel of his intention to join the Bare footed Carmelites; in 1731 or 1732, according to Diderot s recollections recorded in a letter to Sophie Volland in 1765, he was willing to become a Carthusian monk, although on this occasion, it is true, the prior did not take him at his word; 6 in 1741 he persuaded La Salette that he intended to enter Saint-Sulpice, while at nearly the same time he was leading the Champions to believe that he was about to enter the Seminary of Saint-Nicolas-du- Chardonnet, a nearby and highly regarded training school for priests where Ernest Renan was to be a student a century later. From all these incidents we must conclude that Diderot not only had a convincing way about him but was also so familiar with seminary ways and various religious orders as to sound completely plausible.

Their married years were to prove, abundantly and regrettably, that Denis Diderot and Anne-Toinette Champion were far from temperamentally congenial. What was it about her, then, that so appealed to Diderot in the days of his courtship? The question is, it must be confessed, a silly one. What appeals to any young man in a girl beautiful as an angel* ? But it is also possible that Diderot, already thirteen or fourteen years away from home and perhaps tired of an existence more than a little Bohemian, was feeling domestically inclined. Anne-Toinette Champion her name sometimes ap pears as Anne-Antoinette did much more for Diderot than she is usually given credit for. Not least of these benefits was the fact that her being hard to win drew Diderot away from that inclination toward dissoluteness and debauchery that was quite evidently a part of his bachelor existence. 7 Those shirts played a great role; how great may be detected in the implications of a remark that Diderot happened to toss off in casual conversation many years later. I have heard Diderot say, wrote Nicolas de Chamfort, an anecdotist of some repute in his century, that a sensible man of letters might be the lover of a woman who writes a book, but he ought to be the husband of her only who knows how to sew a shirt. 8 This remark of Diderot has in it unpremeditated sadness and poignancy because it sums up so accurately the history of his own marriage.

Nevertheless, they [the Champions] unceasingly referred to his entry


CLANDESTINE MARRIAGE 39

into the Seminary/ continues Mme de Vandeul, but, having perceived more than once that he was pleasing to my mother, he confessed to her that he had hit upon this fib only for the purpose of being allowed in her home, and assured her with all the violence of his passion and of his character that he was determined not to take orders but, on the contrary, to marry her. My mother made only such objections as reason might suggest; in view of their mutual affection, these objections had little weight. My grandmother declared it to be most contrary to reason to marry oneself to such a hot-head, to a man who did nothing, and whose whole merit, she said, was in having a golden tongue with which he turned her daughter s head; but this mother, who preached so sensibly, was herself fond of my father to the point of distraction. . . . Finally they all decided that my father should visit Langres and that he should come back fortified with his family papers and the con sent of his parents/ 9

Meanwhile, even before Diderot left for Langres, the idea of his be coming a lawyer had been revived. This we learn from an undated letter he wrote to Anne-Toinette: 1 have just received a letter from the papa. After a sermon two ells longer than usual, plenary liberty to do anything I want, provided I do something. Do I persist in the resolution of going into a solicitor s office? Order given to seek out a good one and pay down the first quarter right off. . . . 10 It is interesting that this project of be coming a solicitor crops up a second time in Diderot s life. Perhaps we may conclude that not long previously Diderot had informed his family that he had decided not to enter Saint-Sulpice on i January 1742. But did Diderot actually again start work in a solicitor s office? Other letters to his fiancee give absolutely no indication one way or the other. Naigeon implies that he did, by saying that Diderot fell in love sometime before entering the solicitor s office, and Naigeon, though tiresome, is an authority who may not with impunity be ignored. 11

From these letters to his fiancee it can be deduced that Diderot left Paris for Langres on 7 December I742. 12 He found his parents much concerned about his future, but also much impressed when galley proofs arrived of the translation he was doing from the English of Temple Stanyan s Grecian History: My dear sweetheart, these proofs of my book, sent to me thrice a week, are doing wonders. My father and mother, who didn t seem too much inclined to let me go back, are going presently to be the first to hasten my return, so convinced are they that I am occupied up there with something useful. . . . 13 Moreover, Diderot found that the decision that my younger brother has just taken has put the finishing touch to deciding my father to


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 40

leave me my freedom. " This freedom may refer to Diderot s previously stated intentions of becoming an ecclesiastic. Just at this time his younger brother had entered the seminary to become a priest, and it may be that the Diderot parents did not desire both their sons to adopt a calling that precluded their having legitimate children" This did not mean however, as Diderot soon found out, that the family was willing to accept any daughter- in-law he might propose for them.

At first the Langres visit went well: no doubt Diderot s tactful gift of a book of piety for his father, an Office of the Dead, was well received. 1 It was probably during this visit, too, that Diderot went to see his sister who had become a nun, a visit mentioned by Mme de Vandeul, but m a context that is very vague. 17 It may be that during this comparatively lengthy visit Diderot let slip some views on religion that made his mother fear for his orthodoxy, for Diderot s father, writing some years later, makes an allusion to the remonstrances that she made to you by word of mouth. 18 Since this visit to Langres is the only one known to have been made by Diderot be tween his first going to Paris and his mother s death in 1748, this testimony provides useful evidence in dating the progression of his heterodox ideas, although it should be admitted that it probably took very little to alarm the simple faith of his unsophisticated and pious mother.

Diderot s strategy was to persuade his parents to fix an annuity upon him. Following that, he intended to broach the subject of his intended marriage. But by this time Anne-Toinette s letters, addressed to him in care of one of his cousins named Humblot, were reaching him, and one of these epistles, full of injustices and cutting words and evidently accusing him of being too dilatory, caused him to force the pace. 19 A later letter from Diderot mentioned that thy impatience, which I can only praise, since it is a proof of thy love, has just hastened my declaration/ 20 This declaration was so poorly received that Diderot appears to have demanded, in a fit of passion, that he receive his share of the family inheritance out of hand, failing which he actually threatened to have his father arrested. It must have been a tempestuous scene. The fine plans of Diderot the son were quite undone and Diderot the father took steps of his own. On i February 1743, he wrote to Mme Champion: If your daughter is as well born and loves him as much as he believes she will exhort him to renounce her hand. It is only at this price that he will recover his liberty, because, with the aid of friends of mine who have been made indignant by his impudence, I have had him put in a safe place, and we have, I am sure, more than enough backing to keep him there until he changes his mind. 21


CLANDESTINE MARRIAGE 41

Parental authority went rather far in the ancien regime, and it was not at all uncommon for heads of families to call to their assistance the supreme authority of the king in cases of particularly stubborn resistance. If passions were too hot, they were cooled off by the simple device of arrest and in definite detention in some monastery, castle, or prison. Thus the power of the state operated to moderate the passions of junior members of a family while abetting those of the head of it. Unfaithful wives, daughters eager to elope, sons desirous of marrying beneath them could be made unwilling guests of the king for prolonged periods during which it was hoped that leisured meditation would temper the promptings of impetuous desire. The most famous example in the eighteenth century of arbitrary arrests and im prisonments used to enforce family discipline was that of the turbulent Mirabeau family. At one time the Marquis de Mirabeau had every single member of his family, save himself and one other, under lock and key. 22 This was operating on a grand scale, and the Diderots, of course, were not so magnificent. But it is quite evident that Diderot s father intended to utilize the power of the state indefinitely until his son should change his mind.

It is extremely interesting to learn that Diderot was put under coercive detention. It is no less so to know that he escaped it. After having experienced unheard-of torments [he wrote to Anne-Toinette], here I am at liberty. Shall I tell you? my father carried his harshness to the point of having me shut up with some monks who have employed against me all that the most determined maliciousness could imagine. I flung myself from the window the night of Sunday going on to Monday. ... I have come thirty leagues on foot in detestable weather. ... If you resent the lack of success of my journey and if you should show that you do, I am so overwhelmed with afflictions, I have suffered so much, so many trials still await me, that my decision is taken, I shall finish everything at one stroke; my life or death depends upon the welcome you give me. My father is in such a fury that I do not doubt at all that he will disinherit me, as he has threatened. If I lose you, too, what remains to me that can keep me in this world ?

1 shall not be in safety at all in my former apartment, for I have no doubt that Brother Angel has already received orders to have me arrested, orders which he would be only too glad to carry out. Do me the favor then of finding me a furnished room near you or somewhere else. . . .

[P. S.] I forgot to mention that to prevent my running away, they took the useless precaution of cutting off half my hair.

In the whole family, I had on my side nobody but one aunt. I went to stay with her during our quarrels. 2S


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 42

On his return to Paris Diderot apparently went underground for a con siderable period. Perhaps the only wonder is that the police made no determined effort to catch up with him, for, after all, he had flouted the royal authority. This was an example, one is tempted to think, of how a revolution could incubate in France, for the authority of the state repeatedly showed itself arbitrary and irritating without being resolutely and effectively repressive. During this year of lying low, Diderot occupied lodgings in the Rue des Deux-Ponts on the old lie Saint-Louis, that islet in the Seine which even today preserves an air of detachment, as though living untouched by

. i 04

time m an age gone by.

The family tradition, as reported by Mme de Vandeul, was that Anne- Toinette Champion intended to see no more of her lover: She assured my father very explicitly that she would never enter a family where she was not regarded favorably; she asked him to go away, and in spite of his impor tunities ceased to receive him. But Diderot became ill, according to this family story: *My mother could not remain at peace and know that he was suffering. She sent a friend to get news of him. She was told that his room was a regular kennel, that he was without hot food or any care, and was emaciated and melancholy. She thereupon made up her mind, went to see him, promised to marry him, and both mother and daughter became his nurses. As soon as he could go out, writes Mme de Vandeul, they were married. 25

It is noteworthy that the marriage, which occurred on 6 November 1743, was not solemnized until the groom had passed his thirtieth birthday. This was probably intentional, for by a royal ordinance of 1697 it had been estab lished that a son who married without his father s consent before the age of thirty could be disinherited. 26 As for the customary marriage settlement, Diderot later wrote: My wife s relatives had our contract drawn up and I signed it without reading it. The reason was that I loved her. 27 Concerning this marriage, the most copious source of information is provided by Jal, an indefatigable and reliable antiquarian: Diderot . . . had one ban pub lished at the church of Saint-Louis [-en-l lle, his parish church], and at the church of Saint-Severin [Anne-Toinette s parish church], paid for dispensing with the two others, and presented himself before the parish priest of Saint- Severin for permission to be betrothed and married on the same day in the church of Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs. Saint-Pierre shared with the Cardinal Le Moine and some of the small parishes of the city the privilege of solem nizing marriages that were quasi-clandestine. People went there to have marriages consecrated against which there were family repugnances or some


CLANDESTINE MARRIAGE 43

scandal or other. Without display, without carriages, without guests, the people to be married presented themselves at an early hour at the sacristy, asked for a low mass, signed the marriage certificate witnessed by four persons, and left the church without bustle or pomp, just as they had arrived there. "Denis Diderot, a burgher of Paris, a son of full age of Didier Diderot, master cutler, and Angelique Vigneron," and "Anne-Toinette Champion, residing at Rue Poupee, in the parish of Saint-Severin," pre sented themselves on 6 November, 1743 the cold favoring the incognito that they wished to preserve at Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs, and were united in the presence of "Marie Maleville, residing at Rue Saint-Severin," of "Jacques Bosson, vicar of Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs, of Jean-Baptiste Guillot, former canon of Dole, and of a neighbor of the bride." 28 Saint-Pierre-aux- Boeufs was located on the lie de la Cite, just a stone s throw from Notre- Dame, on a site now occupied by the Hotel-Dieu. Mme de Vandeul says that the marriage took place at midnight. 29

Diderot s letters from this period of courtship and engagement trace the familiar progress of a lover from the formal vous to the intimate tu, and then when lovers quarreled the regress back to vous again. Here are the endearing nicknames, with a special tinge of Diderot s exuberance on them: Ninot writing to his Nanette/ his Tonton. And the letters reveal, too, much of the character and temperament of the bride and groom. They allow us to perceive Anne-Toinette s hardheadedness, her evident ability to be coolly skeptical and disconcertingly realistic. These were congenital qualities, no doubt, but also ones confirmed by the narrowness of a neces sitous existence and reinforced by the conviction that life is hard. They were qualities that always grated on that exuberance of his, on his easy en thusiasms, on that half of him that loved to gamble, to buy expensive prints, to be late to appointments, to forget what day of the week it was, and to ignore the fact that a cab he had ordered was standing outside running up a bill. So Diderot expostulates with her, as on 2 January 1743 : You know my sensitivity. Judge, then, of the state you have put me into. You will be my cruelest enemy if you do not hasten to redress the wrong you have done to him who in the whole world merits it the least and loves you the most. 30 And in the last letter extant from the period before their marriage, a letter which shows that Anne-Toinette came very close to breaking off the marriage entirely, Diderot complains of the hardheartedness of your way of doing things. 31

These letters also show us in the early Diderot a Diderot already striking some of his most characteristic poses the plausible and persuasive Diderot


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 44

of the golden tongue, facilely making assurances of eternal devotion; the disarmingly candid Diderot, blandly confessing the extent of his previous vagaries in order to show how greatly he had reformed: The fire that consumes a young libertine (for I have truly merited the name) for his neighbor s wife is a fire of straw which soon dies down forever; but that which consumes a virtuous man (for I merit this name since you have made me well-behaved) for his own wife never goes out. Alas! this was not only an erroneous prophecy; it was fustian. Anne-Toinette, however, married him in spite of it, perhaps because of it. And finally, there is revealed in these letters the complacent Diderot, naively complimenting himself, as he so frequently did, concerning his own virtue: . . . my gratitude, my probity, for I pride myself upon having as much of it as any one alive; the tears that I shed when I was on the point of losing you, my oaths of fidelity, thy love, thy qualities of body, heart, and mind, all ought to assure you of an eternal reciprocation on my part. 32

For the next year and more, documentary evidence concerning the newly married couple is exceedingly meager. On 13 August 1744 those who like to count will notice that it was a few days more than nine months after their marriage their daughter Angelique was born, and was baptized the next day at the church of their parish, Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet. 3a At this time the Diderots were living in the Rue Saint-Victor, a twelfth-century street, part of which is still in existence and in which was located the Seminary of Saint-Nicolas, that seminary which Diderot had once told the Champions that he intended to enter. But between the birth and the death of little Angelique, the Diderots evidently moved. When their six-weeks-old daughter was buried on 29 September at the parish church of Sainte- Marguerite-de-Paris, their address was given as Rue Traversiere, then a street in the suburbs, almost in the open fields, out beyond the Bastille. 34 It is astonishing, too, that the parish burial register describes Diderot as a day-laborer. Perhaps to conceal himself from his relatives or the police, Diderot had moved to this out-of-the-way suburb. There must have been some power ful motive operating to induce him to move from the Left Bank, for almost all his long career in Paris was spent in that part of the city. Diderot did indeed possess the Latin Quarter sort of temperament, and the rive gauche should be proud of so representative a son.

Diderot s wife lived an extremely retired life, partly because they were impecunious, partly because her husband was jealous, partly because they kept their marriage a secret from the relatives at Langres. So well, indeed, was the secret kept that it was not before 1749, six years after the marriage, that


CLANDESTINE MARRIAGE 45

old Didier Diderot heard a rumor that his son was married and the father of children. 35 Moreover, during at least the first four years of their mar riage, the Diderots attempted to conceal the fact of that ceremony by having Mme Diderot live under her maiden name. 36 From her point of view, con vent-nurtured as she was, it must have been a real sacrifice to have people suppose her children illegitimate. For Diderot, the inevitable result was that he spent a good deal of his time acting like a bachelor, with the unfortunate consequence that he became entirely habituated to that situation. When conditions changed later, he did not change with them, but continued to go his own way, never dreaming of allowing his wife to share any part of his social or intellectual life. Unconsciously he took advantage of her willing self-sacrifice: My father was of too jealous a disposition to allow my mother to continue a business that would require her to receive and deal with strangers/ wrote his daughter. He exhorted her to give up this business. She experienced great difficulty in consenting to do so: destitution did not frighten her as far as she herself was concerned; but her mother was aged, she was faced with the possibility of losing her, and the thought of not being in a position to provide for all her mother s needs tortured her. Never theless, as she persuaded herself that this sacrifice would make her husband happy, she made it. A charwoman came each day to sweep the small apart ment and bring the day s provisions. My mother provided for all the rest. Often, when my father was eating out, she dined or supped on bread, and took great pleasure in thinking how on the morrow she would be able to make her customary meal for him twice as good. Coffee was too con siderable a luxury for this sort of household; but she did not want him to be deprived of it, and every day she gave him six sous that he might go take his cup at the Cafe de la Regence and watch them play chess/ 37

These days of courtship and early marriage saw also the cementing of one of the famous friendships of the eighteenth century, that between Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau s early life is so well known, and is so well told in his Confessions, that no mention of it needs to be made here, save to say that in August 1742 he had arrived in Paris with a new scheme of musical notation that he had devised. A Swiss named Daniel Roguin introduced him to Diderot, and there immediately grew up an intimate friendship, based initially on the interest they shared in matters musical. 38

Temperamentally these two young men were very different, congenial though they were in the first ten years of their friendship. The fact that in their frequent games of chess Rousseau invariably won is itself an indication of


46 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

their differing personalities and temperaments. 39 Diderot was big-hearted, well meaning, rather grandly negligent, brash, and tactless. Although he deemed himself shy, he was in reality endowed with an over-brimming measure of self-confidence, which Rousseau, to an unusual degree, both lacked and admired. Rousseau, shy, tortured by feelings of inferiority, now and then convulsively assertive, desirous of being led while living in jealous dread that he might be, was just as brooding and paradoxical a person then as he was in the later years when he became famous.

In July 1743, Rousseau left Paris for Venice, where he had an appointment as secretary to the French embassy. Fifteen months later he was back in Paris, having quarreled with his ambassador, and it was there, in March of 1745, that he became interested in Therese Levasseur, a servant girl at the hotel at which he was staying, and presently began to live with her. 40 He of course knew of Diderot s attachment and speaks of Anne-Toinette in unflattering terms: He had a Nanette just as I had a Therese; that con stituted between us one conformity the more. But the difference was that my Therese, as good-looking as his Nanette, had a gentle disposition and an amiable character, suitable for attracting a virtuous man; while his [Nanette], a shrew and a fishwife, showed nothing to other people that could make up for her bad education. 41

In 1812, Anne-Toinette s daughter, herself fifty-nine years old in that year, commented explosively upon these lines, in a spectacular display of filial spirit. Yet she made admissions regarding her mother s difficult temper. Where my father was in error was in not forming her for the world, because, born jealous, he did not wish that she should see it. ... Solitude, domestic cares arising from a very restricted income, the chagrin caused by the love affairs of my father, her ignorance of the manners of polite society, had soured her temper; and to scold became a habit. . 42

Diderot s marital difficulties were to a large degree his own fault and arose from the fact that he got into the habit of treating his wife as though she were a concubine.


CHAPTER 4


First Fruits


D 1


DIDEROT at the age of thirty was a necessitous young man without either reputation or livelihood. His recent quarrel with his family had cut him off from any paternal support, yet he was too independent in spirit to tie himself to a profession or undergo the constraint of being a tutor or take up the daily routine of some occupation in trade or commerce. He had described himself truly to his friend Wille as a person striving to become a philosopher and a man of letters; he was as yet a complete unknown. Certainly his career was not going to be dis tinguished by traits of unusual precocity, that was already evident; yet he yearned to find glory as well as truth, if we may take as being partly auto biographical his picture of the ambitious child whom the sensible father tries to restrain from leaving home: Wretched child, what are you going to do ? You are not sure to attain glory, and you rush headlong into poverty. x

The tenor of his life during these difficult years suggests that his principal objectives were intellectual freedom, the attainment of glory, 5 the mainte nance of personal independence, and survival! But to achieve all these things, in proper and desired combination, was not easy. Moreover, Diderot had compounded the risks of his precarious existence by assuming the added responsibilities of a wife and, presently, a child. Had Diderot been less jealous, he might have allowed his wife to continue meeting the public in the small lace and linen trade in which she had earned her livelihood before marriage. Had he been less proud, he might have sought the patronage of the great. It was like Diderot to do neither.

The price paid for this independence was insecurity and impecuniosity. The easy and traditional way would have been to find a rich man to whom to inscribe flowery letters of dedication. But just in these very years literary men of spirit were discovering that it was possible to live a life of inde pendence, even though its cost was high. This is the purport of D Alembert s

47


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


Essay on the Intercourse of Men of Letters with the Great (1753) and Dr. Johnson s famous letter to Lord Chesterfield (1755). Yet it was hazardous and far from easy, even for men of talent and courage, to be independent and still avoid hunger. Even the proud and sensitive Jean-Jacques Rousseau was fain to be a secretary to the condescending Mme Dupin. Diderot refused to be patronized. He sought contractual relations, not feudal ones. No doubt his publishers exploited him, as he and his friends were wont to complain, but at least he avoided dependence upon the haughty and uncer tain largess of a patron.

Such an attitude led him into an existence of what would now be called free-lancing and free-lancing at its hazardous and vicissitudinous worst. Probably he received some payment for writing several reviews in a periodical entitled Observations sur ks Ecrits Modernes. This journalistic enterprise, which was published for eight and a half years beginning i March 1735, was edited by the Abbe Pierre-Frangois-Guyot Desfontaines, a man of some literary ability who is remembered for little save that he had the misfortune or bad judgment to fall foul of Voltaire. In a statement made to the Lieu tenant-General of Police in 1749, Diderot declared that several of the articles in the Observations were of my making. 2 These contributions were pub lished anonymously, however, and it is impossible now to identify Diderot s work in these superannuated pages.

Desfontaines, a competent critic, encouraged Diderot in another branch of letters, although the advice bore no immediate fruit. It is the Abbe dc La Porte, writing for his newspaper, L Observateur Litttraire, in 1758, who tells us of the incident. 1 recall what was said to me one day by the celebrated Abbe Desfontaines to whom M. Diderot, then still very young, had pre sented a dialogue in verse, "This young man," he said to me, "is studying mathematics, and I have no doubt that he is making great progress, for he has a great deal of ability; but from the reading of a play done in verse that he brought to me some time ago, I counseled him to give up these serious studies, and devote himself to the theater, for which I believe him to have a real talent." 3 This advice would have had to be given before 1745, since Desfontaines died in that year.

In 1742 Diderot had for the first time the satisfaction of seeing his name in print. His satisfaction may have been alloyed with some vexation, however, for the printer had garbled his name. Over the name of P. D. Diderot there appeared an epistle in verse to a Monsieur B * * *, probably Baculard d Arnaud (1718-1805), a very second-rate man of letters. This bit of verse appeared in Le Perroquet, a collection now as rare as it was then obscure,


FIRST FRUITS 49

published at Frankfurt am Main. 4 A flavorsome touch of the archaic is all that distinguishes these competent but rather commonplace lines, which bespeak an author rather more practiced than inspired. Throughout his life Diderot was to turn now and then to this form of expression, being able to produce well-polished occasional verse almost on demand. Some reflections caused by a cold sore, lines written on the back of a letter to Anne-Toinette, and the epistle in Le Perroquet are the earliest known examples of his occasional impulses to versify. 5

It was not as an author, however, but as a translator from the English that Diderot managed to support himself for a number of years. When and why he learned the language is a matter of conjecture; certainly he had done so by 1742, for he was then translating the work on Greece. Perhaps his reason for learning it was the curiosity excited by a book like Voltaire s Letters concerning the English Nation, the French edition of which (1734) had introduced into France the ideas of Locke and Newton, as well as British notions of liberty and religious toleration. How he learned the language he tells us himself, by recalling that he passed it through the Latin. 6 This suggests that he taught himself, a supposition the more likely since he appears to have been unable to write English or to speak it, the draft of a letter composed in English late in his life being the sole evidence to the contrary. 7 Still, his ability to read English was an unusual accomplish ment in eighteenth-century France, enabling him to go to the fountainheads of English science, literature, and philosophy, and to read English authors who, unlike Bacon and Newton, wrote only in the vernacular.

This was an inestimable advantage for an eighteenth-century Continental thinker. English influences the writings of a host of deistic authors like Toland and Clarke and Wollaston, arguing for natural religion; the sci entific ideas of Bacon, Boyle, and, most important, Newton; the psychological ideas of Locke, emphasizing that all we can ever really know is transmitted to us by one of our five senses had an exciting and unsettling effect upon conventional ideas, especially upon conventional ideas in France. No doubt it all started innocently enough in the hope that by using the scientific method preached by Bacon and the rational methods used by Newton, men would be vouchsafed the privilege of peering a little deeper into the nature of things. But what happened was that the scientific and rational implica tions of English ideas greatly affected the metaphysical and theological think ing of the time. Moreover, the doctrines of the English writers and scientists, when transplanted to France, took on an exaggerated and revolutionary character that they did not have at home. Probably the reason was that


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

Catholic orthodoxy was more absolutist and had less give than the orthodoxy of a Protestant country. At all events, English ideas were the most excmng ones of the eighteenth century, and English thoughts m French heads produced in the long run some astonishing and explosive consequences. Diderot, with his mind and temperament, would natural y have played a leading part in this exciting and dangerous decanting of ideas. But add to this the fact that he was able, unlike many others of his cotene, to grapple with these ideas in the original, and had done so in a number of h early literary chores, and a solid basis is established for his ability to assert and make good his intellectual leadership.

The earliest of Diderot s translations from the English was Temple Stanyan s Grecian History, the first complete edition of which had appeared in 1730. The Dictionary of National Biography speaks of Stanyan as an excellent scholar and of his history as a compilation which held the field until the appearance of the much larger history by William Mitford almost fifty years later. As we have already seen, the galley proofs of Diderot s translation created a sensation upon their arrival in Langres. The work, entitled Histoire de Greece, appeared in three volumes in i 743 . 8 The fort nightly Journal des Sqavans, the blue-ribbon periodical of that era, did the history the honor of quoting it copiously in three installments, but of the translator s work it finally remarked, disappointingly, that it was written rather negligently. 9 A Berlin review of Diderot s translation, written m 1773 and no doubt inspired by the malevolence of Frederick the Great, spoke of it superciliously as a long task during which the creative spirit of M. Diderot took a rest. 10 Maybe so; but if one be content to ask no more of a translation than that it be accurate and faithful, a comparison of the original and of the French version shows that Diderot was a quite skillful translator. For the Stanyan work Diderot received the sum of three hundred

francs. 11

Diderot s next exercise in rendering from the English was more a para phrase than a translation. Yet it is a very important work, indeed, for under standing the growth and development of his thought. The book in question was Lord Shaftesbury s An Inquiry concerning Virtue and Merit, which appeared in its French dress in 1745, purportedly published in Amsterdam under the title Principes de la philosophic morale; ou Essai de M. S * * * sur le merits et la vertu. Avec reflexions. It was Diderot who furnished the reflections in a preliminary discourse and lengthy footnotes to which stu dents of Diderot now turn for precious indications of the unfolding of his ideas. 12 Since this book was published in 1745 Diderot s presentation copy


FIRST FRUITS 51

to Rousseau is dated 16 March 1745 it is to be presumed that Diderot was engaged upon the work in the months following his marriage. 13

It will be noticed that the French version is anonymous: neither Shaftes- bury s name nor that of his translator was mentioned. The reason was that there was some danger involved in presenting to the French public a work that declared so boldly for the existence of a natural morality independent of the sanctions of any particular religion or church. Shaftesbury very much believed in God, but his religion and morality were such as are revealed more by reason than by Scripture. Happily, the French press reviewed the book quite favorably and without too much emotion. The Jesuit Journal de Trevoux, a very influential magazine edited at Paris and (since 1734) printed there, ran its review of the book as its leading article for the issue of February 1746. Imagine Locke s discoursing on morality/ it said. Thus the author appears to us, and, if one wishes, so does the Translator or Compiler of this volume. 14 But the Journal des S$avans, while favorable, had some mental reservations: If he [the author] conducts the human creature, as he says, to the doors of our temples, he seems at the same time to be wishing to excuse him from entering them. 15

A comparison of the translation with the original shows that Diderot was quite successful in wrestling with the convolutions of Lord Shaftesbury s syntax, which still remained seventeenth-century even though he wrote in the Age of Addison. 16 Whatever Diderot gained in clarity, however, he probably lost in savor. 17 This was, of course, the fate of almost all English authors in eighteenth-century French translations, Shakespeare most of all. Never theless, Diderot was quite faithful to his task more, even, than he claims to be, for he wrote in his preliminary discourse, I have read and reread him; I have filled myself with his thoughts; and then I closed his book, so to speak, when I took up my pen. 18 Still, there is a great deal of the char acteristic Diderot in this little treatise: the mischievous and pointed placing of footnotes where Shaftesbury s implicit heterodoxy was most apparent; the lengthy quotation from skeptical authors like Montaigne or extremely pagan ancients like Petronius; the use of concepts, that, like leitmotives, occur in Diderot s later writings, such as the notion that human beings are like musical instruments of which our passions are the strings; 19 the extremely personal approach to the reader, even in works of philosophy, as in his re mark, I have passions, and I would be sorry not to have them: I love very passionately my God, my king, my country, my parents, my mistress, and myself. 20 Moreover, in these notes he indulged his inveterate fondness for flushing more ideas than he could bag, a failing that was alluded to by the


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

reviewer in Desfontaine s Jugcmens sur Qudqucs Outrages Nouveaux, who named Diderot right out and evidently knew him. Let me be permitted to say to him, following Doctor Swift, in whom he frequently takes refuge, that digressions in a book are like foreign troops in a state, making one suspect that the natives lack vigor and courage.

Most characteristic of all in the Essai sur k merits et la vertu is Diderot s appeal for religious tolerance, which was quite in the spirit of Shaftesbury, too. In the dedicatory epistle To my Brother/ Diderot wrote, But if you will recall the history of our civil troubles, you will see half the nation bathe itself, out of piety, in the blood of the other half, and violate the fundamental feelings of humanity in order to sustain the cause of God; as though it were necessary to cease to be a man in order to prove oneself

religious! 122

There is much in Shaftesbury s thought that made a profound and per manent impression on Diderot, who shows in his footnotes to this essay his familiarity with all of Shaftesbury s works. 23 He liked Shaftesbury s doc trine that man is endowed by nature with a moral sense; that man s emotions and passions can work for good and not exclusively for evil, as the older generation of philosophers and Christian moralists had held; 24 that it is possible to build a morality based on reason; and that there is an extremely close relationship, practically an identity, among the good, the beautiful, and the true 26 Many, moreover, of the anticlerical or anti-Christian facets of Shaftesbury s thought are directly reflected in Diderot s later work, for ex ample, his influential Philosophical Thoughts.

Diderot s dedication of his work on Shaftesbury, To my Brother,* was perhaps only figurative. Didier Diderot, then studying theology in Paris and approaching his ordination to the priesthood, can scarcely have welcomed the dedication of such a volume even though published anonymously. There is no record of his protesting against the dedication, nor indeed of any intercourse between the two brothers during their joint residence in the capital. 27 For some reason, however, the second edition found aunt sub stituted for brother* in the dedicatory passage.

Diderot s next adventure in translation was a considerable one, but accomplished without reflections.* Briasson, the same bookseller who had brought out the Stanyan Histoire de Grece, undertook to publish Robert James s medical dictionary, a work which had appeared in three folio volumes in London between 1743 and 1745. The scope of the work, which may very well have given Diderot ideas of how to lay out an undertaking of encyclo pedic character, is worth indicating by quoting its title in all its eighteenth-


FIRST FRUITS 53

century lengthiness: A Medicinal Dictionary; including Physic, Surgery, Anatomy, Chymistry, and Botany, in all their Branches relative to Medicine. Together with a History of Drugs; and an introductory Preface, tracing the Progress of Physic, and explaining the Theories which have principally prevail d in all Ages of the World. By R. James, M. D. These ponderous folios (Volume I weighs eleven pounds, fourteen ounces), called by Mark Twain A Majestic Literary Fossil/ were illustrated by sixty-three quite good copper plates of surgical instruments and operations, so that the whole work with its broad approach, its sense of the interrelationship of the sci ences, its engravings, and its cross references was of a nature to kindle in a person as imaginative as Diderot a lively conception of what a similar work could do for the whole sweep of human knowledge. 28 That there is so close a connection between the Medicinal Dictionary and the Encyclopedic is conjectural but nevertheless chronologically possible. And inasmuch as Diderot, by his own account, worked almost three years on the project, he must have learned a great deal about putting a work of considerable mag nitude through the press. 29 Moreover, it is highly probable that Diderot s deep and abiding interest in physiology, anatomy, and medicine was estab lished as a result of the extensive task of translating Dr. James. Briasson brought the work out in six folio volumes between 1746 and 1748 under the title Dictionnaire universel de medecine, etc., translated from the English of Mr. James by Messrs. Diderot, Eidous and Toussaint, 5 30 It is of interest to learn that Samuel Johnson, a close personal friend of Dr. James, con tributed to the Medicinal Dictionary its dedication, its prospectus, and some of its articles, so that Diderot probably translated some of Dr. Johnson s august prose. 81

Diderot was an extremely generous man though distinctly more gen erous of his time than of his money and the work of translating the Medicinal Dictionary became the occasion for a remarkable display of this quality. He had just undertaken this business when chance brought him two men the one Toussaint, author of a little work called Les Moeurs, the other an unknown but both of them without bread and seeking work, wrote his daughter. My father, having nothing, deprived himself of two- thirds of the money that he could count upon from this translation, and engaged them to share with him this little undertaking. 32

Mme de Vandeul speaks here with a note of unjustified condescension about Francois-Vincent Toussaint and his famous book Les Moeurs, pub lished in 1748 and condemned on 6 May of that year by the Parlement of Paris. 33 Les Moeurs was one of the first (and therefore one of the boldest)


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 54

works in the eighteenth century to set forth the arguments for a natural morality unbolstered by any religious belief or public cult. No doubt Tous- saint was inspired and abetted in this daring enterprise, both as to the intellectual content of the essay and the publication of it, by the example of Diderot, whose Penstes philosofhiques had appeared two years previously. A police report on Toussaint, under date of i April 1749, spoke of him as being closely associated with Diderot and D Alembert and working with them on the Encyclopedic?* It is true that he contributed some articles on jurisprudence to Volumes I and II of the Encyclopedic, but thereafter he had no connection with it; we do not know why.

The unknown mentioned by Mme de Vandeul was the Eidous (Marc- Antoine by given name) who appears on the title page of James s Dictionnaire. Eidous had been an engineer in the Spanish army before coming to Paris, where he eked out a long life by doing translations from the English by the yard/ as Grimm contemptuously described it. 35 Thus in the fullness of time Eidous became the translator (1767) of Horace Walpole s The Castle of Otranto?* Eidous existed on the periphery of literature, never translating very well Grimm said he rendered the English into a language all his own: the Eidoussian language 37 never venturing to embark by himself on the deep waters of original composition. It was he who was to contribute to chapter XLVII of Diderot s novel Lcs Bijoux indiscrets, a chapter describ ing the adventures of what Ernest Hemingway would call *a big, inter national whore. Some of Eidous passages in English and Italian certainly do rival Aretino, as a secret police report of the time said of them, 38 and probably come close to surpassing in pornography anything else that has appeared in print. Diderot s association with this elevating companion ap pears not to have extended beyond these early years. Eidous did a few unim portant articles for the Encyclopedic and thereafter fades out of focus in the Diderotian kaleidoscope.

During this early period certainly before 1749 Diderot wrote some notes and comments on a French translation of Pope s Essay on Man?* This may have been intended to be nothing more than an exercise to improve his powers of rendering from the English, but it may also have had some lasting effect upon his thought. Certainly Virtue alone is happiness below, 1 comes close to expressing Diderot s whole philosophy of living.

Sometime between September of 1744, when they had buried their first-born child in the churchyard of Sainte-Marguerite-de-Paris, and May of 1746, when their second baby was baptized, the Diderots changed their residence back to the Left Bank, The baptism of Francois-Jacques-Denis Diderot accordingly


FIRST FRUITS 55

took place in Saint-Medard, the parish church of the street in which they then resided. The churchyard of Saint-Medard had been from 1728 to 1732 the scene of some healings, alleged to be miraculous, that took place over the tomb of a Deacon Paris. This man had been a Jansenist, and his fellow sectaries, delighted to discover among themselves a saint (for the Jansenists did not have many), lost no opportunity to publicize his thaumaturgical powers. The result was that enormous crowds visited the place, creating a frightening crescendo of religious frenzy and hysteria. This was the period of the convulsionnaires. The government, as unsympathetic to Jansenist mir acles as to Jansenists, closed the cemetery, causing some unknown wit to place a placard on the gates: By order of the King, God is forbidden to work miracles here. The excitement slowly subsided, but it left the phi losophers of the century shuddering, for to them it seemed to prove the ugliness of religious fanaticism, as well as to reveal that the Jansenists were quite as far gone in obscurantism as any of their antagonists. 40

Saint-Medard, then, of unsavory memory to a person like Diderot, who alludes to the convulsionnaires in several of his Philosophical Thoughts, had now become the church of his parish. In the baptismal certificate the Diderots were mentioned as living in the Rue Mouffetard. This street, long, populous, odorous, and poverty stricken, probably looks very much now as it did then, and still offers to the tourist or photographer some of the oldest roofs, the oddest angles, and the most captivating juxtaposition of planes in all of Paris.

While the Medicinal Dictionary was still in the process of being trans lated, Diderot wrote a little book that ought to be considered, in view of the reverberations it caused and the polemics it aroused, one of the most important of the eighteenth century. This was the Pensees philosophiques, bought by the book publisher Durand, who was to be one of the partners in publishing the Encyclopedic; printed surreptitiously in 1746 by a man named L Epine; and then sold clandestinely by various bootlegging tech niques in which the eighteenth century was becoming remarkably pro ficient. 41 So incisive and effective was this little book that it came under the disapproving scrutiny of the Parlement of Paris. That court, the highest in the land, in an Arrest of 7 July 1746 condemned the book to be torn up and burned ... by the High Executioner as scandalous, and contrary to Religion and Morals, In amplification of this decree the Parlement declared that the Pensees philosophiques presents to restless and reckless spirits the venom of the most criminal and absurd opinions that the depravity of human reason is capable of; and by an affected uncertainty places all re-


g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

ligions on almost the same level, in order to finish up by not accepting any. 42 The Parlement might have been better advised to spare itself such tre mendous ejaculations, for they simply served to draw attention to skeptical ideas and to the author who expressed them. People quickly learned so many in French society were leisured and unoccupied who the putative author was, and the ideas set forth immediately took on some of the de licious savor of forbidden fruit. Ideas, especially radical ideas, had an unusually broad and quick currency in eighteenth-century France, which is perhaps the principal explanation why a revolution occurred there rather than in some other country where misery, poverty, and inequality were even greater. Diderot s work, bold and revolutionary though it was, was by no means the first eighteenth-century expression of skepticism about Christianity. Dur- ing the first half of the century there circulated in France a very large number of manuscript works, the precursors of the flood of printed attacks that the presses presently began to pour forth. The circulation of these sur reptitious manuscripts goes far to explain the rapid gain of new ideas, and the equally rapid collapse o the old, in the years after I750. 43 And the number of these manuscripts still extant in French public libraries Pro fessor Wade of Princeton found some 102 separate titles, many of them in multiple copies is testimony of their pervasion and influence. We can be pretty sure that Diderot was familiar with many of these writings, especially as manuscripts of two of them, now in the library at Fecamp, were copied out in his own hand. 44

Diderot s book, then, has a close relationship with this underground litera ture; 45 but it also had characteristics of its own that made it a landmark in the chronic debate between skepticism and faith. The first of these char acteristics was boldness, the very boldness of Diderot s allowing it to be printed. In eighteenth-century France it was taken for granted that a func tion and duty of the state was to punish the expression of opinions against Religion/ Therefore the police kept a close watch on authors, printers, and booksellers. Inasmuch as a larger number of persons had unavoidably to be let into the secret, the risks of printing a book were altogether different from the risks involved in the production and circulation of a manuscript, If these dangerous writings were printed in Paris, as they frequently were, they had to be clandestinely printed, often by unlicensed printers who set up their fly-by-night presses in out-of-the-way places and moved them fre quently in order to escape the police. Yet some of these clandestine and peripatetic printers were themselves secret agents of the police. 46 By printing a work, one certainly ran a great risk of betrayal. But on the other hand, the


FIRST FRUITS 57

very act of printing increased the circulation of one s work and extended its influence.

The Pensees philosophiques evidently found a considerable number of readers. In spite of the attempt of the Parlement of Paris to suppress the book, at least ten editions were published in the eighteenth century, plus five books that quoted it in entirety for the purpose of refuting it (a signally obtuse way of spreading the flames while trying to extinguish them), plus five printings in collected editions of Diderot s works, plus a translation into German. 47 Moreover, in contrast to practically all of the clandestinely cir culated manuscripts, which had a decided tendency to be tedious and humor less, Diderot s was written with an epigrammatic concision and a sort of grave yet gracious persuasiveness that made his book very effective.* The tradition in his family was that he dashed off the Pensees philosophiques between Good Friday and Easter of I746. 48 This is not impossible, consider ing that the sixty-two sections of the work comprise about ten thousand words; but it is not very likely, in view of the polish and literary elegance of the aphorisms. They have a gloss and quotability that indicate deliberation 4nd care.

In skill of composition, as well as in boldness of publication, Diderot s Pensees philosophiques quickly achieved a position of pre-eminence in its genre. In the form of aphorisms it covered a good deal of ground, much of it no doubt suggested by the writings of Shaftesbury. 49 The tenor of the whole book is deistic, which is equivalent to saying that it suggests that what man can discover about God is made known by reason rather than by revelation. Some examples of the aphorisms will speak for themselves, and give some notion of the impact they must have had:

To judge from the portrait people paint me of the Supreme Being, from His in clination to anger, from the rigor of His vengeance, from certain comparisons that express the ratio between those whom He allows to perish and those to whom He condescends to stretch out a hand, the soul the most upright would be tempted to wish that He did not exist. . . . The thought that there is no God has never frightened anyone, but rather the thought that there is one, such as the one that has been described to me (Pensee IX).

Superstition is more injurious to God than atheism (Pensee XII).

What is God? A question which is asked of children, and which philosophers have a great deal of trouble in answering (Pensee XXV).

  • An English translation is contained in Margaret Jourdain, Diderot s Early Philosophical

(Chicago, 1916), 27-67.


58 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

People have a right to demand of me that I seek the truth, but not that I find it (Pensee XXIX).

Skepticism is the first step toward truth (Pensee XXXI).

In this little work Diderot defends the passions (Pensee I), a very sig nificant position to take against the prevailing ascetic view held by orthodox Christian doctrine; he shows himself very anti-Jansenist (Pensees XIII, XIV) and therefore very opposed to the views expressed by Pascal in his famous Pensees; 50 he quotes Julian the Apostate with complacency, which was enough, of course, to infuriate the orthodox; if he is not an atheist and he claims in this work that he is not, saying, f l was born in the apostolic Roman Catholic Church; and I submit myself with all my strength to its decisions (Pensee LVIII) he certainly defends those who are (Pensees XV, XXI); he casts doubts on miracles (Pensees XLVI, LI, LIII, LIV), an attack regarded by some critics as the most aggressive and the most telling, as well as the hardest to answer, in the whole book; 51 by arguing from the evidence of current studies in natural history and biology, he throws new light on metaphysical and theological problems, thus making his book a remarkably original contribution to the literature of deism (Pensees XVIII, XX, XLV) ; and in Pensee XIX he gives a sort of preview of his philosophy of the origin of things, which he was to develop at greater length in later works. 52

Diderot became very skillful in the art of writing dialogue, and there are some critics who feel that the Pensees p kilo sop hiques is a conversation among an atheist, an orthodox Christian, and a deist. Both the atheist and the Christian are confounded by the deist, and the book, in spite of its ap parent looseness of construction, thus has an underlying unity. 53

Diderot s book was important enough to draw considerable enemy fire, but this counter-bombardment gives the impression of having been more effective in betraying its own positions than in damaging its assailant. 54 The defenders of orthodoxy probably realized that their antagonist was redoubt able: some of them acknowledged his book to be passably well written in a spirited, energetic, and sprightly style. 65 Nor was this the last time that they would have occasion to make such a rueful admission.


CHAPTER 5


The Emerging Philosophe


A,


k s DIDEROT tried to discover for himself a satisfac- .tory philosophy of life, his mind encountered trammels imposed by orthodox, revealed religion. His early works are more concerned with an examination of the truths of religion than his later ones, and there is a consistent directional trend in these first writings. From the theistic belief in a providential God, which we can see in his notes to the translation of Shaftesbury s Inquiry concerning Virtue, Diderot pro ceeds to a somewhat militant deism in the Pensees philosophiques, ending that little treatise with the suggestion that natural religion, revealed to us by our reason, is the best. From this point, as we shall see, he proceeds until he arrives finally at a position of outright atheism.

Anyone not well acquainted with a mind like Diderot s might suppose that he adopted skepticism and, later, atheism simply out of a desire to shock, to irritate, or to amuse. In reality, he went through this process of emancipa tion not to be impudent but to satisfy a sort of intellectual necessity. From first to last Diderot sought to understand the universe in which he lived, and in so doing he always seemed impelled to follow a principle that one might call the principle of greatest possible economy. Diderot was ever reluctant to make greater metaphysical assumptions than were necessary to provide a rational explanation of the world. Thus he found himself giving up Christian tenets simply because he did not find them indispensable and essential: If there were a reason for preferring the Christian religion to natural religion, he wrote, it would be because the former offers us, on the nature of God and man, enlightenment that the latter lacks. Now, this is not at all the case; for Christianity, instead of clarifying, gives rise to an infinite multitude of obscurities and difficulties. 1 Thus he passed from orthodox Christianity through phases of theism and deism to end in a basic physiological, psychological, and neurological materialism that left God

59


g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

out simply because the existence of God was unnecessary, according to this view, to explain the universe.

In the Pensees philosophiques Diderot purported to regard himself as still a Roman Catholic (Pensee LVIII). The last thought of all, however, showed him developing the deistic argument that natural religion was best. This theme he amplified in a short work entitled De la Suffisance de la religion naturelk ( On the Sufficiency of Natural Religion ), which was not published until 1770.2 Assezat and Tourneux, editors of Diderot s works, assert that this brief essay was written in 1747, following his Sceptic s Wd\, although they adduce no evidence to substantiate their assertion. On the other hand, the title and argument of the Sufficiency of Natural Religion are so organically connected with the Pensees philosophiques that it seems likely that the little treatise was written in 1746 or early 1747, thus preceding the Sceptics Wal\ f which in several respects is the more radical of the two. 3

It is interesting to speculate why Diderot made no attempt to publish this little series of apothegms on natural religion. Perhaps he felt that they repre sented only a dialectical moment in the development of his thought. In this brief work Diderot speaks frequently of natural law, graven in the hearts of all men/ much as Saint Paul spoke of it in the Epistle to the Romans; he declares that religion best that best accords with the goodness and the justice of God; and he ends by saying that the truth of natural religion is to the truth of other religions as the testimony that I discover within me is to the testimony that I receive from someone else; as what I feel to what I am told; as what I find written within me by the finger of God, to what vain, superstitious and lying men have written on paper or chiseled in marble. . . . 4 This sort of argument was common among English deists, not at all unknown among French seventeenth-century freethinkers, and became quite commonplace in the eighteenth century. Here we see Reason, unaided by any reference to the outside world of phenomena, constructing by itself a sort of intellectual fabric. This type of ratiocination, so characteristic of one aspect of the Age of Reason, was nevertheless not at all characteristic of Diderot: his efforts to understand reality were guided not by turning the reason in upon itself, but by relating his mind and understanding to the physical, biological, and psychological phenomena of the outside world. Thus the eleven pages of the Sufficiency of Natural Religion, although interesting, are scarcely a characteristic work. And it may be that this was why Diderot did not seek to publish it. At all events a more dangerous work was soon to come.

In 1747 Diderot was living with Anne-Toinette and their infant son in


THE EMERGING PHILOSOPHE 6l

lodgings in the Rue Mouffetard, only too glad if the police did not know who he was or his family at Langres did not know where. No doubt it was exciting to be the author of a book that had been burned by the public executioner, but it was dangerous, too. A less daring man might have deemed it prudent to wait a while before committing to paper doctrines that were even more inflammable. But Diderot had that itch for writing that is the blessing, and sometimes the curse, of a prolific man of letters, so that an incendiary successor to the Pensees philosophiques and the De la Suffisance de la religion naturelle presently began to flow from his quill. This was an allegory, almost certainly written in 1747, which he called La Promenade du sceptique ( The Skeptic s Walk 5 ), with a sub-title describing it as a con versation concerning religion, philosophy, and the world. 5

In the preliminary discourse to his allegory, Diderot shows his awareness of the risks run by any author who does not limit himself to the banal. Aristes, the supposed author, examines all the disadvantages of attempting to publish so controversial an item. One of his imagined interlocutors was of the opinion that it was better to be a bad author left unmolested than a good author persecuted. But Aristes, a Diderot-like figure, was reluctant to accept that choice. There was a solution to the dilemma, though rather a drastic one, inasmuch as it involved self-exile and putting oneself into the formidable hands of Frederick the Great: Appeal to ... the philosopher- prince whom you . . . recently heard scolding Machiavelli with such elo quence and good sense.* Pass into his States with your work and let the bigots rage. ft

This advice to an author who is a sort of mirror-image of himself may reveal uneasiness on Diderot s part as to his own tranquillity. Police records show that he would have been completely justified in being apprehensive. On 20 June 1747, a man named Perrault wrote to Berryer, the Lieutenant- General of Police, denouncing this miserable Didrot as a very dangerous man who speaks of the holy mysteries of our religion with contempt. 7 Two days later more ample information came in, this time from the priest of the parish in which Diderot lived, a man who stated that he had previously written to Berry er s predecessor in complaint of Diderot. M. Diderot is a young man who passed his early life in debauchery. At length he attached himself to a girl without money, but of social position, it seems, equal to his, and he married her without the knowledge of his father. The better to hide his so-called marriage, he has rented lodgings in my parish at the house of M. Guillotte [Guillotte and his wife were the godparents of the

  • Frederick s Anti-Machiavel was published in 1740.


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


second Diderot child]; 8 his wife goes by her maiden name. . . . The re marks that Diderot sometimes makes in this household amply prove that he is at least a deist. He utters blasphemies against Jesus Christ and the Holy Virgin that I would not venture to put in writing. ... It is true that I have never spoken to this young man, that I do not know him personally, but I am told that he has a great deal o wit and that his conversation is most amusing. In one of his conversations he confessed to being the author of one of the two works condemned by the Parlement and burned about two years ago. I have been assured that for more than a year he has been working on another work still more dangerous to religion/ 9

This still more dangerous work, La Promenade du sceptique, described three separate paths and what took place on each. These were the paths o thorns, of chestnut trees, and of flowers, referring respectively to orthodox Christianity, philosophy, and life s more carnal enjoyments. The allegory about Christianity is particularly searching and savage, giving in very thin disguise a critical account of Biblical history and Christian institutions. The residents of this path of thorns are described as soldiers each equipped with a blindfold that is to say, the symbol of faith and a white robe, the symbol of innocence. They anxiously grope their way through life. The soldier s duties are limited to keeping his blindfold on right and keeping his robe from getting spots. 10

The path of the chestnut trees provides a tranquil abode, and resembles very much the ancient Academy. Here the mirror-image of Diderot heard representatives of the principal philosophical schools the Tyrrhenians, the skeptics, the Spinozists, the Berkeleyan idealists or solipsists, the atheists, and the deists engage in a discussion that critics regard as the solidest part of Diderot s allegory. Not infrequently the path of the chestnuts was invaded by the truculent soldiery of the path of thorns. Under our chestnut trees, the chiefs of the path of thorns are tranquilly listened to; their thrusts are expected and are parried, they themselves are brought to earth, they are confounded, they are enlightened, if possible; or at least their blindness is lamented. Gentleness and peacefulness regulate our proceedings; theirs are dictated by fury. We employ reason, they accumulate fagots. They preach nothing but love, and breathe nothing but blood. Their words are humane, but their hearts are cruel. u

The description of the path of chestnut trees incidentally reveals that it was a place of men without women. This is quite enough to explain why Diderot s mirror-image found himself spending some time in the path of flowers. In this rather conventional and final part of the allegory, the burden


THE EMERGING PHILOSOPHE 63

of the argument is that all is not entirely well in the flower-strewn path. Proof of this contention rests in three little stories, written almost in dialogue form, about a man who swears eternal love to his mistress and then forgets her, about another who steals his friend s mistress, and about a third who by intrigue secures an appointment that he had learned about from a friend who had supposed he was going to get it himself. It is evident that Diderot recommended, if one had the resolution to do it, staying in the shade of the chestnuts.

Diderot s aptitudes were not best suited to the allegory, a literary form that he himself later described as the ordinary recourse of sterile minds/ 12 It may be that in experimenting with this form he was following the ex ample of Swift in The Tale of a Tub, especially since we know that he was familiar with some of Swift s works. 13 It is interesting and significant that in La Promenade du sceptique he frequently seems on the point of breaking forth into the dialogue form, which later became his most effective and personal mode of expression. Indeed, another allegorical satire of Chris tianity that he is believed to have written about this time, a short tale called Quen pensez-vous? ( What Do You Think? ), is almost all in conversa tional form. 14 Although La Promenade du sceptique is not regarded as one of Diderot s major works, still it is by no means without interest: it shows the vigor and variety of his imagery; 15 it reveals the breadth of his reading, with references to Milton, Montaigne, Rabelais, and many others, besides, of course, a considerable familiarity with the history of philosophy; it reveals his usual dislike of the Jansenists; 16 it shows him already interested in the intellectual problems raised by a person s being deprived of one or more of his senses, problems which were presently to provide the central considera tion of his Letter on the Blind; 1T and, finally, it again reveals his awareness of the impact of biological fact upon metaphysical speculations, a character istic destined to make him perhaps the outstanding thinker of his century in the philosophy of science. Because of this emphasis on biological nature he eventually came to be a philosophical materialist, as we shall presently see. But for the moment it caused him to rest at a halfway station between the idea of a deistic universe with Voltaire s watchmaker God, on the one hand, and an atheistic one with no God at all, on the other. 18 This halfway station was a universe that makes God and nature the same thing, the position known as pantheism.

Presumably Diderot hoped to publish La Promenade du sceptique. But the police, one way or another, prevented it. According to one version, Diderot, without having to surrender the manuscript, was nevertheless


g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

forced to promise the Inspector of Publications, one Joseph d Hemery, that it would not be published. 19 This story would seem to be confirmed by Diderot s deposition, when he got into trouble in 1749, that although he had written La Promenade du sceptique, he had subsequently destroyed the manuscript. 20 But another version of the story, this one told by Mme de Vandeul, is that D Hemery searched Diderot s house, found the manu script, and carried it away. 21 This version is confirmed by the fact that Diderot is known to have tried to get the manuscript back some thirty years later, when he was considering the publication of a collected edition of his works. 22 The result of his failure to repossess the work was that the world had to wait until 1830 before the allegory was published. And Diderot s fond recollection began to play him tricks, so that he came to believe that this was one of his best works, which is very far from being true. 23

In writing about the path of flowers, Diderot described Aristes as meeting a beautiful woman, of whom he speaks in the somewhat rueful and wise- after-the-fact tone of a man looking back upon some untoward experience begun in a night club or bar. She was a blonde, he wrote, but one of those blondes that a philosopher ought to avoid. 24 We wonder if Madeleine d Arsant de Puisieux was a blonde or if, at least, Diderot did not eventually come to think that she fitted the specification. For a time, however, Diderot was quite under the spell of this rather demanding young Parisienne, a woman seven years his junior. She was the wife of Philippe Florent de Puisieux, a non-practicing lawyer who did a great deal of translating, espe cially from English. 25 It is impossible to say just when the relationship be tween her and Diderot began. His reference to loving a number of objects very passionately/ including my mistress/ had appeared by March ij^. 26 But this may not betoken more than Diderot s Gallic feeling that if a mistress did not exist, it would be necessary to invent one. Perhaps the ap proximate chronology can be established indirectly : in 1751, Mine de Puisieux published a book in which she speaks quite transparently of Diderot and mentions five years of familiarity/ 27 If the liaison lasted five years, then it must have begun not later than 1746. This would agree with the story as told by Mme de Vandeul, who says that Diderot wrote his Pensees philoso- phiques at Eastertime in 1746 in order to procure money for his mistress. 28 Probably this is substantially correct, although it must be confessed that Mme de Vandeul s account of the Puisieux affair is demonstrably incorrect in another particular, and consequently may be so in this one. For she claims that Diderot took Mme de Puisieux for his mistress during the absence of Mme Diderot at Langres, whither her husband had sent her in the hope


THE EMERGING PHILOSOPHE 65

of being able to reconcile his family to the marriage. 29 The fact is that there is documentary evidence that as late as September 1749, Diderot s father did not know that his son was married, and therefore the visit that Mme Diderot made to Langres in 1752 seems to have been her first. 30 Evidently someone in Diderot s family, whether his daughter or himself, was ashamed of his taking a mistress and consequently fabricated this tale, thinking that the plea of connubial privation would palliate the offense.

The little that is known of Mme de Puisieux has about it a disagreeable and distasteful flavor. Of her it has been said with too patent humour, wrote Lord Morely, that she was without either the virtue or the merit on which her admirer had just been declaiming/ 31 Mme de Puisieux be came a writer of books, no doubt encouraged by Diderot. She was an ambitious authoress, full of vanity and intellectual presumption, as her various prefaces and introductions show, and it galled her very much to be thought to have relied on Diderot for any literary assistance. Thus she is at very special pains in her preliminary discourse to her first book, Conseih & une amie t to assert that M. D * * * had nothing to do with the writing or revision of her work. 32 Nobody believed her: the entry under her name in the police records of the office of censorship declared that it is Diderot, her very good friend, who did all the body of this book/ 33 The Abbe Raynal, author of a fortnightly news letter, wrote to his subscribers, I do not know whose book this is, but I am sure that it has been corrected by M. Diderot . . . / 34 When the world proceeded to say the same thing about her second book, Les Caracteres, the lady became shrill: When [the first part of] the Characters appeared last year, people were disposed ... to attribute it to a savant who, removed from the world, glories in ignoring its maxims. . . . If the Editor of the Encyclopedic is capable of worthily completing so great a work, it would perhaps be impossible for him to compose any as futile as mine. . . / 35 (These words were published in 1751, and betokened quite evidently that the love aflfair had ended in bitterness and despite.) As for her protestations of originality, critics observed that her later works, with such unremembered titles as Alzarac, Histoire de Mile Tervillc, Memoires de la comtesse de Zurlac, and Zarnor et Almanzine, did not have the sparkle, nor fulfill the promise, of the early ones. The works on morals, by which Mme de Puisieux signalized her first steps in the career of letters, wrote a mild and not unsympathetic critic, acquired for her a glory that she has not been able to dissipate by her novels/ 36 Mme de Puisieux survived until 1795, consumed by vanity to the end. A person who met her when she was sixty years old spoke of her ridiculousness/ and her


st DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

oo

deficiency in judgment and intellectual power, although she was evidently convinced o possessing both to a superlative degree. By that time Mme de Puisieux was stooped and becoming toothless, but she kept up all the little airs and affectations that are scarcely tolerable even in a young girl/ 37

Diderot s love for Mme de Puisieux was consuming, as he himself con fessed in a letter to Voltaire in 1749, saying that he was governed by a violent passion that has me at its almost complete disposition/ 38 Such an attachment naturally had an upsetting effect in his own home. My grand mother died/ wrote Mme de Vandeul, my mother remained alone, without companionship. The alienation of her husband doubled the grief of her loss; her character became melancholy, her disposition less gentle. . . . Had her tenderness for my father been able to weaken, her life would have been more happy; but nothing was able to distract it for a moment.

The recollections of Rousseau in his Confessions allow us to see the Diderot of this period in close association with a little knot of friends: I spoke to Diderot about Condillac and his work; I made them acquainted with each other. They were made to get along together, and so they did. Diderot

undertook to get the bookseller Durand to take the Abbe s manuscript

As we lived in districts very far from one another, we used to meet, all three of us, once a week at the Palais-Royal, and then go to dine together at the Hotel du Panier Fleuri. It must have been that these little weekly dinners were extremely pleasing to Diderot, for he, who used to miss almost all his appointments, never missed one of these. I was then forming the project of a periodical paper, to be called Le Persifteur, which Diderot and I were to do by turns. I sketched out the first number, and that made me be come acquainted with D Aleinbert, to whom Diderot had spoken about it. But unforeseen events blocked us, and the project remained where it was/ 40

The power of Paris to draw to itself the talents of France is exemplified by the association around the table of the Panier Fleuri of these four young men D Alembert, the Parisian foundling; Condillac, the nobleman from Lyon; Rousseau, the plebeian from Geneva and Annecy; and Diderot, the bourgeois from Langres. Thus it had been for centuries in university and intellectual affairs since the time of Peter Abelard, in political and social life at least since Francis I and the Age of the Renaissance and the time of Montaigne. A present-day map of the railways of France, all converging on Paris, is a chart, so to speak, of the intellectual history of France for the past few centuries. In Paris was to be found the stimulating and fructifying company of the first-rate, such as the D Alemberts, the Condillacs, the Rous-


THE EMERGING PHILOSOPHE 67

seaus, and the Diderots, teaching one another, exciting one another, profiting from the intellectual facilities and reveling in the history and monuments of so great and so venerable a city. Of all of this Diderot was now a part. He was a bourgeois de Paris, as the birth certificates of his children de scribed him. As he walked (if he took the closest route) from the Rue Mouffetard to his weekly rendezvous at the Palais-Royal, he would pass, as a tourist might do today, the great old church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, where Pascal and Racine are buried; the Pont-Neuf, where Henri IV was assassinated; and Saint-Germain-FAuxerrois, where the tocsin sounded for the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew s Day. As he walked the streets of Paris, he may often have recalled Montaigne s words about the city, words he probably knew, for Montaigne was one of his favorite authors:

Paris has possessed my heart since my infancy. I am French solely because of this great city, especially great and incomparable in its variety; the glory of France and one of the noblest ornaments of earth.*

The little circle of friends mentioned by Rousseau was composed of men all destined to be eminent. Condillac, although handicapped by eyesight so poor that it is said he did not learn to read until he was twelve, became the leading psychologist of his generation. His specialty was interpreting to his countrymen the psychological doctrines of John Locke (although he was unable to read him in the original), and carrying these on to further con clusions. This sort of speculation placed him on the frontiers of knowledge, in the shadow ground between psychology and metaphysics, as may readily be seen in his works, for example Essai sur I origine des connaissances humaines ( Essay on the Origin of Human Understanding, the book Diderot helped get published in 1746). One year younger than Diderot, Condillac had taken holy orders in 1740 and, even though it is said of him that he celebrated mass only once in his life, he evidently was very careful not to write anything that could be proved hostile to the Church. Eventually Diderot and he drifted apart, perhaps on this issue. Remarkably enough, Condillac, though often quoted in the Encyclopedic, is not listed as having contributed any articles. It is hard to believe, considering Condillac s reputa tion, that Diderot did not desire him as a contributor, and accordingly it may be presumed that Condillac deemed his association with Diderot too compromising. Nevertheless, their close association, while it lasted, was of

Paris a mon coeur des mon cnfance. Je nc suis Francais quc par cctte grande cite, grande surtout et incomparable en variete, la gloire dc la France ct Tun des plus nobles ornements du mondc. (These words are on the plinth of Landowski s statue of Montaigne, erected in 1937 on the Rue des Ecoles facing the Sorbonne.)


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


great value to both. On Diderot s side this can be seen in his Letter on the Blind (1749), a work much more basic in its psychological and metaphysical concepts than any previous one. As for the influence of Diderot on Condillac, the latter s Traite des sensations (1754) was the result of Diderot s pointing out in his Letter on the Blind the apparent congruence of Condillac s pre- suppositions with those of the British philosopher, Bishop Berkeley. 41 Diderot merely pointed out some troublesome affinities between two works that, in all other respects, had no relationship, writes the leading authority on Condillac. With an astonishing critical sense, he had foreseen the problem which Condillac s attempt involved. 42

Jean Le Rond d Alembert, of whom we shall hear much, was four years younger than Diderot. He was the illegitimate child of one of the most celebrated, not to say notorious, women of the eighteenth century, and of the Chevalier Destouches, a lieutenant general in the French army. He was left a foundling on the steps of the church of Saint-Jean-le-Rond (the baptistry of Notre-Dame de Paris), and from this circumstance took his name. The wife of a glazier, one Mme Rousseau, took care of him in infancy and mothered him into middle age. He remained with her, occupying a modest little room in her humble home, until he was forty-seven years of age and one of the most famous men in Europe, but without her ever realizing, it is said, how celebrated her adopted chick had become. Unlike Diderot, D Alem bert was unusually precocious. When only twenty-five years of age, he had become an associate member of the Academy of Sciences. At twenty-six he published his Treatise on Dynamics, which, according to the principal French biographical dictionary, was an event in the history of the sciences. 48 D Alembert was slight and small in stature, with a marvelously intelligent and attractive face, as we see it in La Tour s pastel of him, with a clear and piercing falsetto voice which permitted his enemies to hint that he was not quite a man, and with a skill at mimicry which was the hilarious delight of his companions.

In this small circle of friends, vis-a-vis the psychologist, the mathematician, and the musician (for Rousseau about this time undertook to write the articles on musical theory for the projected Encyclopedic), Diderot proved his versatility by being profoundly interested and instructed in the specialty of each. One earnest of this breadth and competence was an article he pub lished anonymously in the October 1747 number of the Mercure de France. Entitled Project for a New Organ, 44 it was later republished, under Diderot s own name, in his Memoires sur different sujets de mathematiques (1748), and excited a good deal of interest on the part of the editor of the Gentle-


THE EMERGING PHILOSOPHE 69

man s Magazine, the leading London review of the day. What Diderot had in mind were improvements in the simple hurdy-gurdy bird organs or me chanical organs of the time. These instruments for an excellent description of the bird organ, see Diderot s own article Serinette in the Encyclopedic and the corresponding engraving had a range of only one octave and a repertory of only a few tunes. 45 Diderot s principal innovation, simple but effective, was designed to increase greatly both the acoustical range and the repertory of such an instrument. A barrel organ constructed according to his description would permit people, even those unable to play an instrument, to set up* quite complicated pieces of music, and thus make music more readily accessible to all. Apparently, too, Diderot had in mind the con struction of instruments large enough to be played in churches. He also suggested a chronometer for accurately indicating tempi, in this respect anticipating MaelzeFs metronome. Observing this early interest, it is not surprising to learn that, when the Encyclopedic was to be done, Diderot assigned to himself the articles on musical instruments, their construction, their acoustical characteristics, and the method of playing them.

Diderot s Project for a New Organ was a very characteristic performance. In the first place, it shows him being alertly curious, original, and inventive and also reveals a constant fascination in the relation of pure theory to applied knowledge and to gadgets. Thus, as he discusses how to place the pins on the organ cylinder in order to increase its range, he shows an equal awareness of both theoretical and technological problems. Another of Diderot s hallmarks was his ability to introduce into a discussion of any subject a marked quality of subjectiveness, an intimate revelation of personality even in an anonymous article on a technical subject. This quality delighted the editor of the London Gentleman s Magazine as much as the proposed invention itself. What suggested the notion to the author, who appears very well versed in physics and geometry, wrote the editor in the leading article of the August 1749 issue, may be seen by the following extract from his work: "For my part, who am hardly more bashful, or less curious than a child, I had no rest nor ease, till I had examined the first German organ I heard; and, as I have no skill as a musician, but am a great lover of music . . . it came into my mind . . . that it would be very convenient ... to have such an organ, or some other instrument, which might require neither more natural fitness, nor less acquired knowledge, and on which one might per form all sorts of musical compositions." 46

Later in the eighteenth century there was a marked improvement, both in France and England, in instruments using the barrel-and-pin mechanism,


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

but perhaps to attribute this to Diderot would be no more than argument on the level of post hoc, ergo propter hoc^ In the Gentleman s Magazine for September 1749, a reader from Lancashire inquired whether your ac count of M. Diderot s organ has yet set the musico-mechanical artists of London at work, or is likely to do so. The design in all probability must take. It has many recommendations, one especially, which will weigh both with those that are performers in music, and those who are not; I mean by having the barrel-pins moveable. 48 It is therefore tempting to believe that Diderot s influence was at work during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when the application of the barrel-and-pin mechanism to the organ became very common in England. Indeed, Dr. Scholes, the well- known British musicologist, found one of these organs still in weekly use in a Suffolk church in 1934 49

Diderot always delighted in being called a philosopher, or, better yet, the philosopher. In many respects he had been qualifying himself for the appel lation in the usual sense of the term. For in 1746-7 he was already proficient, as his writings show, in the history of philosophy; he was already con cerned with problems of ethics, of the nature of God and man s relation to Him, and with the problem of being. Already we see him rummaging about in the philosophy of science, trying to use mathematical, biological, and physiological insights as aids in the investigation of ultimate things.

But more than this, Diderot wanted to be a philosophe in that special sense of the French word which the English does not quite convey. What, then, is a philosophe? The answer is not easy, partly because in the eighteenth century the word was dynamic and fast-moving. At the beginning of the century, according to Muralt, a Swiss who wrote extensively on the man ners of the French, the term philosophe was one of reproach and almost of insult, betokening a person who desired to live in moody and invidious solitude. 50 But fifty years had been changing all that; philosophei declared themselves to be as sociable as any other Frenchmen, and the word began to take on pleasing connotations. Moreover, it became a party name, with all the blood-quickening and adrenalin-stirring attributes that party names generate. It is easy to see in part what the philosophes meant by philosophy* if we turn to the article Philosophe long regarded as one of Diderot s best, in the Encyclopedic. In reality this article was a shortened version of one written by some unknown person and first printed in 1743, possibly circulated in manuscript form before that. 51 It may be fairly assumed that Diderot was likely to have known the piece by this time (1746-7) when he was just moving into his responsibilities with the Encyclopedic. His en-


71 THE EMERGING PHILOSOPHE

thusiasm for the article may be inferred from the fact that he published the scissors-and-paste version in the Encyclopedic, whether he wrote it him self or accepted it from another hand. And the following excerpts from the 1743 edition, copied almost verbatim in the Encyclopedic, will give some idea of what an eighteenth-century philosophe thought himself to be: Reason is to a philosopher what grace is to a Christian in the system of Saint Augustine. . . .

The philosophical spirit is, then, a spirit of observation and exactness, relating everything to its true principles; but it is not the mind alone that the philosopher cultivates . . . Man is not a monster who should live only in the deeps of the sea or the depths of a forest ... his needs and well-being engage him to live in society. Thus reason demands of him that he know, study, and labor to acquire sociable qualities.

. our philosopher, who knows how to divide his time between withdrawal from men and intercourse with them, is full of humanity. He is the Chremes of Terence, who feels himself a man and who interests himself in the good or bad fortune of his neighbor out of humanity alone. Homo sum, humani a me mM

dienum puto. .

Civil society is, as it were, the only divinity that he recognizes on earth; he worships it, and honors it by probity, by an exact attention to his duties, and by a sincere desire not to be a useless or troublesome member of it. ...

The philosopher, then, is an honest man who acts in all things according to reason, and who combines good morals [moeurs] and sociable qualities with a mind disposed toward reflection and preciseness. 52

From these quotations it is possible to see some of the reasons why the term philosophe became a pleasant word in the eighteenth century, resonant with such happy overtones. On the affirmative side, it betokened a sense of social awareness and responsibility which appealed to the sympathies and large-mindedness of many well-intentioned persons. Moreover, the philosophe was inherently a man of probity and virtue, par excellence the virtuous man. On the negative side, it turned out that to be a philosophe was easy. No one need fret over such painful prerequisites as that of knowing the dif ference between ontology and epistemology. The ticket of admission to the chestnut path bore no pedantic stipulations having to do with a tech-

The Encyclopldic. more circumspect, reads at this point, For him, civil society is, as it were, a divinity on earth . . f


72 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

nical knowledge of the subject. As Professor Dieckmann points out, the author of this treatise (and, following him, the party of the Encyclopedists in general) does not conceive of the philosopher as the author of a system of ideas or the creator of a comprehensive interpretation of the world. . . . The philosopher thus conceived appears as a model, an ideal norm after which one strives, as one strove during the Renaissance to be an uomo universale, or cortigiano, and in the nineteenth century a gentleman / 63

Diderot was a philosopher. He was also a philosophe. His early writings, skilled in the technicalities of the philosophical method, using the word in its usual sense, were also beginning quite unmistakably to show the char acteristic approach described by the author of the treatise on The Philosopher. The philosophe was beginning to emerge.


CHAPTER 6


The Early History of the Encyclopedic


French Encyclopedic, as it stands today on the J. shelves of library treasure rooms in the select com pany of the very old, the very rare, and the very naughty, is an enormous work consisting of seventeen folio volumes of letterpress and eleven of en gravings, to say nothing of four volumes of supplement, two of index, and one of supplementary plates. Yet at its inception the Encyclopedic was a modest venture, planned to be no more than a translation in four volumes (plus one of engravings) of Ephraim Chambers Cyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences, a very successful work first published in 1728 in two folio volumes embellished by twenty-one large plates. It was Diderot who in all probability was principally responsible for the expansion from the smaller project to the larger one. At the very least, it was he who became responsible for seeing it through. And thus was produced, as a modern French critic has remarked, not the finest, but surely the most characteristic, work of the French eighteenth century. 1

Previous to that time there were in existence various technical dictionaries or dictionaries of classical literature and learning. 2 There had even been a Latin Encyclopaedia published in 1630 by Johann Heinrich Alsted, a work which treated of philosophy, philology, theology, jurisprudence, medicine, his tory, and the mechanical arts. But by the end of the seventeenth century this estimable work was outmoded, and no less a person than the great Leibniz expressed the hope that a new encyclopedia would soon be forthcoming. 3 In view of the continuing spread of knowledge and education in Western Europe, a comprehensive reference work was needed that would inform its readers of the numerous discoveries in basic science made during the seventeenth century and also attempt to guide their understanding of the whole by means of some scheme or conspectus of the interrelationships of the several branches of knowledge. As we look back on the intellectual preparation of Western

73


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 74

European society two hundred years ago, we are not surprised that a con siderable market existed for such works as Chambers or the more ambitious

one of Diderot.

Chambers Cyclopaedia was prefaced by an elaborate scheme of the divisions and subdivisions of knowledge. It was the first attempt that had yet been made at once to arrange Knowledge by the Alphabet, and to exhibit a view of-its relations and dependencies/ 4 features which the French Encyclopedic also adopted. Chambers Cyclopaedia was very like a present-day dictionary, especially in its emphasis on the definition of common words. There was a particular abundance of medical and pharmaceutical terms, but no attempt was made to include geographical, historical, or biographical information. Moreover, it was severely limited in the number and scope of its engravings, which were devoted to such subjects as heraldry, surveying, sun dials, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and navigation.

The plan and intent of Chambers work was acknowledged by everyone, including Diderot, to be exceUent-JThe execution, he contended, left some thing to be desired. Though moreTnclusive than any other existing work, it was still not comprehensive enough, and its treatment was frequently too brief, The entire translation of Chambers has passed under our eyes, wrote Diderot in the prospectus of 1750, and we have found a prodigious multitude^ of things needing improvement in the sciences; in the liberal arts, a word where there ought to be pages; and everything to be supplied in the me chanical arts/ 5 So important a subject as Agriculture/ for example, was allotted in Chambers thirty-two rather jejune lines. In contrast, the article that Diderot wrote on that subject for the Encyclopedic fills fourteen columns and, among a host of other topics, gives publicity to Jethro Tull s discoveries in new methods of husbandry. This instance shows the breadth of Diderot s interests, and reveals also how the Encyclopedic became a forum for new ideas. 6 Diderot had a right to say that the articles of Chambers are laid out regularly enough, but they are empty; ours, though irregular, are full 1

In France, during the very years when Chambers was preparing his Cyclo paedia for the press, there was formed an ephemeral Societe des Arts (1726), which cherished the hope of publishing a sort of encyclopedia in which re lated arts, sciences, and mechanical arts would be described. 8 Though re vealing the ferment of ideas, this project had no concrete result, nor any connection with the later Encyclopedic. Another project that might have resulted in an encyclopedic was of Masonic origin. A prominent Freemason named Ramsay declared in Paris in 1737 that all the Grand Masters in Ger many, England, in Italy and throughout Europe exhort every savant and


THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 75

artist in the brotherhood to unite for furnishing materials for a universal dictionary of liberal arts and useful sciences, theology and statecraft ex- cepted. 9 Moreover, the Due d Antin, Grand Master of the Freemasons in France, repeated and endorsed Ramsay s ideas in a .discourse pronounced in the Masonic Grand Lodge in I740. 10 Statements such as these naturally have caused historians to wonder whether there was not some direct connection between Freemasonry and the Encyclopedic, and this supposition has been heightened by the discovery that Andre-Francois Le Breton, one of the pub lishers of the Encyclopedic, was made a Master Mason in a lodge at Paris in I729- 11 No evidence, however, has yet been turned up to suggest that Diderot was at any time a Mason. 12 In sum it seems safe to follow the judg ment of a leading modern authority on the subject that Masonry and the Encyclopedic, however similar in attitude, were born in two different and distinct moments as a result of two different and distinct needs in the France of the eighteenth century. 13

Actually, the project for translating Chambers was the result not so much of an ideological enterprise as it was a search for profit. In June 1744 Le Breton had signed a contract with one Godefroy Sellius, a German from Darjzig, for a translation of the works of a German metaphysician, at that time of great repute, named Wolff. 14 This project appears not to have achieved publication, but in January of 1745 Sellius suggested to Le Breton the translation of Chambers Cyclopaedia. Sellius claimed to have found a rich and opulent partner, an Englishman named John Mills. In February 1745, Mills and Sellius entered into a contract, and just a few weeks later the two of them contracted with Le Breton to provide a translation, corrected and enlarged, of Chambers Cyclopaedia, to consist of four volumes of letter press and one of 120 plates. 15 During this time Le Breton was evidently in negotiation with the authorities for a license, for there was issued in blank on 25 February- 1745 a license good for twenty years, which, in the further processes of being sealed and spread on the records of the corporation of booksellers, on 26 March and 13 April respectively, lost its anonymity and appeared in Le Breton s name. 16

On the strength of these preparations, a prospectus was printed in the spring of 1745, antedating by five years the more famous one that Diderot launched in 1750. This comparatively unknown prospectus of 1745, an nouncing an Encyclopedic, ou Dictionnaire universel des arts & des sciences, is a great rarity among book collectors. 17 Besides stating the terms of sub scription, the prospectus emphasized its intention of providing a polyglot cross-reference system for the titles of articles, and included some sample


_*: DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

76

articles, translated from Chambers, such as Atmosphere/ Table/ Blood/ and Dyeing. Several would-be subscribers presented themselves at once, 18 and the Journal de Trevoux, in its number for May 1745, quite outdid itself in the warmth of its remarks. To judge by the Prospectus/ it wrote, . . . there is nothing more useful, more abundant, better analyzed, better related, in a word more perfect and finer than this Dictionary; and such is the gift that M. Mills is making France, his adopted country, while doing honor to England, his true one. 19

John Mills lived to become an appreciated writer on agricultural affairs in England, and the Dictionary of National Biography speaks of him with approbation. His relations withLe Breton, however, were exceedingly stormy, and ended in an exchange of blows on 7 August 1745. Mills, apparently, had misrepresented both his financial situation and his command of the French language. Moreover, Le Breton had supposed that his own relation with the enterprise would be merely as printer and agent rather than entrepreneur. It was necessary, for instance, that some French citizen be the intermediary for Mills and Sellius, both of them foreigners, in negotiations with the authorities for a license. Le Breton declared, when he printed his side of the story, that the translations by Sellius were so poor that they could not be used, that Mills was remiss and tardy in the revision of these articles, and that meanwhile he, Le Breton, was so frequently asked for advances in money that he became convinced that Mills and Sellius were making him their dupe. 20 Mills s urgent demand in August for a very large sum of money, coupled with Le Breton s discovery that far from being an heir to a large estate, Mills was only a sort of clerk in the Paris branch of a British bank, led to that kind of mutual explanation that is likely to end in an explosion.

Suit and countersuit were filed after the quarrel. Mills asserted that Le Breton had not only hit him in the stomach and struck him twice over the head with a cane, but had also cheated him of subscription money and was intriguing to get sole possession of the copyright. 21 Le Breton said, among a number of things, that he taught this arrogant Englishman that a French man, if insulted, even though his weapons be inferior, avenges himself at once, as much as in him lies. 22 The case did not come to trial. Instead, the Chancellor of France, the highly respected D Aguesseau, one of the most famous magistrates in the history of the ancien regime, took direct cogni zance of it. Such action was ordinary enough, for the chancellor of France was ex officio responsible for censorship and other matters pertaining to the policing of the book trade. Le Breton asserted many years later that


THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 77

D Aguesseau, upon examining Mills and Sellius, quite easily detected their incompetence and their swindling. 23 No damages were assessed against Le Breton, and soon afterward Mills left France. 24

The Chancellor allowed Le Breton to hope that after a short time he would be allowed to take up the project again. For the moment, however, the Council of State, on D Aguesseau s recommendation, revoked the license that had been granted the preceding February, and declared Le Breton s contract with Mills and Sellius to be void. The Arrest of the Council of State alluded to various infractions of the regulations regarding subscriptions committed by Le Breton but specifically mentioned the possibility of se curing a privilege anew. 25

Although the project was now in abeyance, sufficient public interest had been aroused by the prospectus of 1745 to encourage Le Breton to resume his plans as soon as possible. An earnest of public curiosity is to be seen in the remarks of an anonymous author, writing in the Jugemens sur Quelques Outrages Nouveaux: What an astonishing, an admirable dictionary is that of M. Chambers, entitled the Cyclopaedia, or the Circle of Sciences, which ought to be translated from the English into French, and for which sub scriptions were even beginning to be taken at Le Breton s, bookseller of Paris, but for which the license has been revoked because the enterprise has appeared to be poorly planned. It is very much to be hoped that this project will be undertaken again without delay, under better auspices, and that our French printing industry, which, suffering grievously from the hardness of the times, has need of being encouraged and favored, may profit from so lucrative an undertaking, for it would be regrettable to see foreign countries, protected by the formalities of our regulations, enrich themselves, to the great shame of our own industry. 26

Unable to count upon the rich and opulent Mills but now intent on pub lishing a translation of Chambers himself, Le Breton evidently felt that he needed more capital. In October 1745 he took into partnership for this par ticular venture three of his fellow-publishers, Briasson, the elder David, and Laurent Durand. 27 This partnership agreement was supplemented by an other in which it was stipulated that Le Breton was to do the printing job for the whole venture, and a total edition of 1,625 sets was planned. 28 In December 1745, the government renewed the license that had been annulled the previous 28 August and this renewal was officially sealed and promulgated on 21 January I746. 29 The translation of Chambers Cyclopaedia was once more under way.

It is hard to say when or how Diderot first became associated with the


7 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

project. It may have beea as early as the summer o 1745, for Le Breton spoke in his memoir of that year of some unnamed intelligent person who was to have corrected the whole Sellius-Mills translation, and without whom the Prospectus would not have been welcomed as favorably as it has. 30 This intelligent person may have been Diderot. Or perhaps it was through his publishers, Briasson, David, and Durand, that he became associated with the project. Briasson had been the publisher of Diderot s translation of the Grecian History; all three of them had collaborated in publishing James s Dictionnaire universel de medecine;* 1 and one of them, Durand, was the publisher of Diderot s edition of Shaftesbury, off the press that very year. 32 The entries in the publishers account book of the Encyclopedic show pay ments to Diderot beginning in 1746 60 livres in February, 30 livres on 4 March and 15 on 31 March, 90 livres on 30 April, 120 on I June. 33 At this time he was certainly on the pay roll, but still a goodly distance from being entrusted with the principal direction of the enterprise.

It has also been asserted that Diderot was introduced to the project of the Encyclopedic by the Abbe Jean-Paul de Gua de Malves, a brilliant but eccentric and unstable mathematician. According to the famous Condorcet, who wrote a eulogy of Gua de Malves at the time of his death (1786), it was the Abbe who recruited Diderot, among others, to assist in the work. 34 Gua de Malves, who was described in a secret police report in 1749 as having the manner and countenance of a crazy man, first appears in the account book of the publishers at the same time that D Alembert makes his appearance there December 1745 and a few weeks before Diderot. 35 On 27 June 1746, the Abbe became the principal editor of the project that became the Encyclopedic, by virtue of signing a contract of which Diderot and D Alem bert were the witnesses. In accordance with this agreement, he was to f extend the part having to do with the arts, preferably, as much as it will be possible for him to complete/ 36 Whether or not he had recruited them, Gua de Malves retained both Diderot and D Alembert to work on the project, assigning to each of them twelve hundred livres, to be paid from the total of eighteen thousand livres that he himself was to receive. More over, Diderot and D Alembert were to enjoy a sort of veto power in judg ment of the accuracy of translation of the English articles. 37

The new chief editor was a learned man, described in the contract as member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, of the Royal Society of London, Reader and Royal Professor of Philosophy at the Royal College of France. He was also extraordinarily headstrong and stubborn, and, as Condorcet says, it would have been difficult for there not to arise frequent disputes be-


THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 79

tween a savant who saw in the undertaking only an enterprise useful for the perfecting of human knowledge or public instruction, and booksellers who saw in it only a business matter. M. 1 Abbe de Gua, whom misfortune had made more easily wounded and more inflexible, soon grew disgusted and abandoned this work on the Encyclopedic. 38

In the light of this documentary proof of their association with Gua de Malves, it is more than a little odd that neither Diderot nor D Alembert ever alluded in their writings to the connection of Gua de Malves with the Encyclopedic, leaving us to wonder how much this taciturnity was inspired by a deliberate intent to mislead. Just what the relations between him and Diderot were can only be inferred, the sole evidence being a single re mark about him made by Diderot in his later works, an allusion rather ungenerous in tone and one which made no reference to the Encyclopedic. Wanting an example of the tendency of some persons to run to extremes, Diderot found it in that old abbe one sees on one s walks. . . . the Abbe de Gua de Malves. He is a profound geometrician. . . . but in the street he does not have common sense. In one year he straitened his income by assignments upon it; he lost his professorship at the Royal College; he got himself excluded from the Academy, and consummated his ruin by the construction of a sand-screening machine that never separated out a single particle of gold; returning poor and dishonored, he fell on the way back while walking a narrow plank and broke a leg. 39

The lack of satisfactory evidence for determining to whom should belong the credit of first having proposed a much expanded project, Diderot or Gua de Malves, has occasioned something of a who-killed-Cock-Robin dis pute among authorities. 40 Condorcet, who was personally acquainted with all the men involved, uncompromisingly declared that Gua de Malves had the idea first. He had had time to change the form of it; it was no longer a mere augmented translation it was a new work, undertaken on a vaster- plan. 41 However, Condorcet adduces no documentation. Moreover, he was writing after the death of all ,the persons involved, so that any misstate- ments he may have made were not subject to contradiction. Condorcet says that Gua de Malves recruited Diderot and D Alembert, but he also claims that Gua de Malves recruited other persons, such as Condillac, Mably, and Fouchy, who in fact did not co-operate. There does, then, exist a possibility that Condorcet was partially misinformed; and over against his testimony can be set that, equally unsupported, of Naigeon, who declared, to bolster his insinuation that Gua de Malves s association with the project did not amount to much, that the first project . . . was limited to the translation


g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

of Chambers English Encyclopedia, with some corrections and additions that the Abbe de Gua, at that time the sole editor, took upon himself to do in order to make up for the important omissions of the English author and to finish the table of human knowledge of that epoch. 42 In short, so con flicting and defective is the evidence that we are reduced to speculation and the weighing of probabilities. Therefore we might say, with great diffidence, that it seems more probable that Diderot was recruited by the publishers rather than by Gua de Halves; that the latter might very well have recruited D Alembert, both of them being mathematicians, and that this may have pro vided the occasion for Diderot and D Alembert to become acquainted; that both Gua de Halves and Diderot, being persons of learning and imagina tion, were capable of conceiving the idea, whether independently or in association, of expanding the project; and that Diderot, whether or not he got the idea first, unquestionably displayed the large-mindedness necessary for success in carrying it out.

The agreement between the publishers and Gua de Halves lasted some thirteen months and then was canceled by mutual consent on 3 August !747 There soon followed one of the biggest moments in Diderot s life. On 16 October the publishers entered into a contract with him and D Alem bert to replace Gua de Halves in the direction of the enterprise. Diderot was to get 7200 livres in all: 1200 of it to be paid in a lump sum upon publication of the first volume; and the remaining 6000 to be paid at the rate of 144 livres per month. D Alembert was also to be paid at the rate of 144 livres per month, but the total was to be only 2400 livres. Thus the pub lishers contemplated a situation in which D Alembert would continue on the project only another sixteen months, while Diderot, at this rate of payment, would be on the job another three and a half years. 44

For Diderot the contract of October 1747 represented both independence and security. Although a sum of 144 livres per month was modest, he could now count on a constant income for the next forty-one months, with two- thirds of a year s salary extra and in a lump sum when the first volume was published. To know that he could keep the wolf from the door for at least four or five years this was indeed something for a person who had lived as precariously as he. Actually, in return for this advantage he undertook responsibilities that lasted twenty-five years, for not until 1772 did he bring out the last volume of plates. In retrospect, Diderot was inclined to think that he had been grievously underpaid for his work on the Encyclopedic, and that the time it took robbed him of the opportunity for more substantial literary accomplishment. Haybe so, though this is far from certain. With-


THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 8l

out the Encyclopedic he might have become more undisciplined and less productive. 45 It must be admitted, however, that the necessity for writing a large number of articles in haste developed in Diderot, for better and for worse, a flair for a type of writing that may well be called journalistic. At its best his writing has a sublime impetuosity and, at its worst, it possesses characteristics of the impromptu and the improvised.

In the six months following the publishers contract with Diderot, so great an expansion of plans occurred that it became necessary to ask for a new license. There had been no intimation of this during the thirteen months that Gua de Malves had been the chief editor of the project at least so far as existing documents show and consequently it is tempting to sup pose that this expansion came as a result of Diderot s breadth of views and persuasive tongue, that gilded tongue of which his mother-in-law had spoken more in admiration than anger. On some occasion during the early history of the Encyclopedic Diderot had a decisive interview with the learned and pious Chancellor d Aguesseau. It is evident that the point of discus sion had to do with plans for expanding the Encyclopedic, and that the freethinking Diderot impressed the Chancellor very favorably. This was the more extraordinary in that the Chancellor, whom Voltaire described as a tyrant desiring to prevent the nation from thinking, was customarily very stern and very conservative in his administration of the censorship. 46 But when could this interview have taken place? Probably not when the privilege of January 1746 was being mooted, for this month was the first in which Diderot s name appeared on the pay roll, and it is clear that he was not yet entrusted with any great responsibility in the enterprise. But by April 1748, when the new privilege was granted, he was one of the co- editors. Therefore it was probably at this time that he astonished D Agues seau by his intellectual powers and readiness of wit. At all events the new license was registered at the Royal Corporation of Booksellers on 30 April 1748, thus superseding the previous one of January I746. 47 A comparison of the texts of the two documents shows very little difference between them, but evidently what difference there was, was considered very significant. Whereas the 1746 license set forth that Le Breton intended to publish a text translated from the English Dictionary of Chambers and of Harris, with some additions, the 1748 privilege calls for a translation of the Eng lish Dictionary of Chambers, of Harris, of Dyche, and others, with aug mentations. . . , 48

Lamoignon de Malesherbes, who between 1750 and 1763 was himself the magistrate in charge of regulating the book trade, is the source of two ac-


g 2 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

counts of Diderot s interview with D Aguesseau. The later account, written in 1790, is the better known, and is contained in Malesherbes Memoir on the Liberty of the Press. Malesherbes recalls that the plan [of the Encyclopedic] was concerted with the most virtuous and enlightened of magistrates, the Chancellor d Aguesseau. M. Diderot was presented to him as that one of the authors who would have the greatest share in the work. This author was already marked, by many of the pious, for his freedom

of thought.

However, the pious M. d Aguesseau wished to confer with him, and I know that he was enchanted by certain marks of genius that shone forth in the conversation. . . . 49

The other account by Malesherbes of Diderot s interview with the Chan cellor was written at a date much nearer to the event. In an unsigned and undated memorandum, written in Malesherbes unmistakable and almost illegible hand, and which internal evidence shows to date from 1758 or early 1759, Malesherbes wrote that The late Chancellor had cognizance of this project [the Encyclopedic]. Not only did he approve it, but he corrected it, reformed it, and chose M. Diderot to be the principal editor of it/ 60

Many years later Diderot wrote a cryptic declaration that might possibly refer to his relations with D Aguesseau. I protest/ he wrote, that under taking the Encyclopedic was not of my choosing; that a word of honor, very adroitly exacted and very unwisely granted, bound me over, hand and foot, to this enormous task and to all the afflictions that have accompanied it , . . / 51 Whether or not this remark by Diderot refers to D Aguesseau, one observation should be made concerning Malesherbes statements. If Males herbes memory was more accurate in the account he wrote while still in office while he still could refresh his memory from the office records about an event that had happened only ten years previously than it was in the account written thirty years later, then it appears that the Chancellor did more than simply accept Diderot as an editor. Rather, D Aguesseau chose him, thus investing him with some of the Chancellor s great prestige and authority, and making it more difficult to attack the Encyclopedic on ideological grounds. If so, this interpretation of events would go far to explain why Diderot, at that time a person still quite obscure, seems to have been so quickly accepted by both friend and foe as the leader of the great new enterprise.


CHAPTER 7


Two Very Different Books


A,


L s HIS thirty-fifth birthday approached, Diderot s .time was filled by a variety of activities. Three rather cryptic entries in the publishers account book for June, July, and August 1748 suggest that he may have been concluding his translating work on the James Medicinal Dictionary}* In addition, his new job as one of the chief editors of the Encyclopedic involved not only the translation and adaptation of a host of articles from Chambers Cyclopaedia, combined with much planning for a greatly extended project, but carried with it con comitant necessities of looking about for collaborators and directing them in their assignments, 2 Documentary evidence of the minutiae of this im portant and time-consuming work has practically all disappeared. No doubt discarded in wastebaskets and trash fires as useless, the concrete evidence of the process of editing the notes exchanged between editor and con tributor, the manuscripts of proffered articles with perhaps Diderotian blue- pencilings upon them, the galley proofs, the page proofs has almost com pletely vanished. Nevertheless, there must have been an exhausting amount to do, especially as the Encyclopedic was planned to be the result of the labor of a company of men of letters. And in addition to these tasks Diderot found time, or at least some time, for his domestic life with Anne-Toinette and baby Fran^ois-Jacques-Denis back at the lodgings in the Rue Mouf- fetard; probably a good deal more time for Mme de Puisieux, and for his expanding circle of friends; and, finally, time snatched somewhere or other for the composition of one more in his series of risky and as regards this particular work risque manuscripts.

This was the novel called Les Bijoux indiscrcts ( The Indiscreet Jewels ). According to Mme de Vandeul, the book was written in a fortnight on a sort of wager with his mistress to show how easy it was to do this sort of thing. 3 The novel, having been bought by the publisher Durand for twelve

83


g 4 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

hundred livres, was on sale, under the mantle or under the counter, in the early days of 1748.4 This is about the time negotiations were under way with the Chancellor of France for a license for an expanded Encyclopedic. It was lucky for Diderot that D Aguesseau, whose official duties were in some re spects like those of a censor in old Roman times and whose temperament somewhat resembled that of Cato the Elder, was unaware of this excursion into the field of salacious literature.

Part of the interest and the daring of the book lay in its transparent allusions to living figures. The action is supposed to take place in the Congo at the capital city of Monomotapa (a name made familiar by the opening line of one of La Fontaine s fables), and the principal personages are the Sultan Mangogul and his charming favorite, Mirzoza. One did not have to be a medium to understand that the author had in mind Louis XV and Mme de Pompadour, who had become the King s acknowledged mistress three years earlier. The book is also filled with thinly disguised references to Paris, the Opera, France and England, and to such personages as the Due de Richelieu, Cardinal Fleury, the composers Lully and Rameau, Descartes, Newton, and Louis XIV. This in itself was sufficient to make the book audacious. Over and above this was the plot. The Sultan, to fend off boredom, to which he was unusually subject, was given a magic ring. This ring had the property, when turned toward any woman, of making that part of her anatomy talk which, if it ordinarily had the power of speech, would be most qualified to answer a Kinsey questionnaire. To a novelist perhaps unsure of his ability to write a tightly constructed novel, this plot was admirably calculated to keep up suspense. If interest flags, just bring in another trial of the magic ring. Diderot did so. There were thirty trials in two volumes, all of them attended by what might be called success.

There is a tradition that Diderot got the idea for his novel from a novelette entitled Nocrion, conte allobroge. This item, now exceedingly rare, was pub lished in 1747 and written, perhaps by the Count de Caylus, perhaps by the Abbe (later Cardinal) Bernis, in the naive manner and archaic language of a medieval fabliau. 5 Certainly Diderot could very well have taken from Nocrion the principal device of Les Bijoux indiscrets. But whether or not this was the source of Les Bijoux, Diderot, of course, did not invent the genre of licentious novels. Indeed, a very successful practitioner in this field, or perhaps swamp, of letters was living in Diderot s day ~ Crebillon the Younger, whose most famous novel, Le Sopha, had been published in 1740. Obviously there is a great similarity of device in the plots of Crebillon s and Diderot s novels. And there is a similarity of cynicism, too, in their common


TWO VERY DIFFERENT BOOKS 85

assumption that every woman, however demure and virtuous she may seem, is really morally corrupt.

Diderot would not have been Diderot if he had not strewn this work with a large number of thoughtful observations and lively criticisms of the social and intellectual life of his time. In consequence, no serious student of Diderot s ideas and their development can afford to overlook Les Bijoux indiscrets* For example, the book contains a very good comparison and contrast of the music of Lully and Rameau (chapter xiii) ; there is also a critical animad version to Louis XIV concerning his domination by Mme de Maintenon, and a disapproving reference to his Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (chapter i); there is a parody of a sermon which quite makes us believe Mme de Vandeul when she states that in the early years of vagabondage at Paris her father got fifty crowns apiece for six sermons written for the missionary who was going to the Portuguese colonies (chapter xv); there is much interesting speculation about the nature of dreams and the real character of the soul (chapters xlii and xxix) ; 7 the scientific and meta physical views of the Newtonians are contrasted with those of the followers of Descartes (chapter ix) ; there is a good deal of criticism of the theater, views praised by Lessing, the great German playwright and critic, and which are the blood brothers of Diderot s later writings on the theater (chapters xxxvii and xxxviii) ; 8 and a chapter of literary criticism, rather redolent of Swift s Battle of the BooJ^s, in which Homer, Virgil, Horace, Pindar, Socrates, Plato, and Voltaire are admiringly mentioned and the Quarrel of the Ancients against the Moderns warmed up again (chapter xl).

Critics speak with great interest and respect of a chapter set forth as a dream, which really deals with the triumph of the scientific method over ignorance posing as knowledge. 9 It was like Diderot to include so serious a subject in a frivolous and licentious novel, telling it in the form of a dream or myth as Plato might have done. This was chapter xxxii, called by Diderot The best, perhaps, and the least read, of this History. The Sultan Mangogul dreamed he had been carried into the Realm of Hypoth eses. While there, he saw a child, Experiment, approaching and maturing and growing ever bigger as he advanced. At length, 1 saw Experiment draw nigh and the columns of the portico of the Temple of Hypotheses tremble, its roof cave in, and its floor yawn open beneath our feet. . . . it collapsed with a frightful roar, and I woke up. The Sultan s sole com ment about this dream, as Louis XV s might well have been, was that it had given him a headache.

People fond of Diderot are inclined to say that passages like these go


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


far to redeem the work, and it is well to remember that Andre Gide noted in his Journal that he read Lcs Bijoux indiscrets with rapture/ 10 Moreover, many people argue, there is something of the scientific in Diderot s treat ment of the sexual (and the sexually abnormal) in this novel. As one modern critic suggests, even the rather heavy-handed facetiousness of Les Bijoux indiscrets indicates an attention, an analyst s and psychologist s in terest in the scabrous details of sexual life. n Still, Les Bijoux has had quite enough editions, and enough illustrated editions, to prove that it is a dirty book. Within a few months of publication, six editions in French were printed in Holland alone. 12 In France, the book was highly contraband as well as popular: in 1754, for example, the police descended upon a book seller and discovered a stock of sixty-four copies. 13 An English translation appeared in 1749, and German ones in 1776 and ityi. 1 * The book is still of interest to collectors and others: there have been ten editions in France since 1920. Lcs Bijoux, in short, is Diderot s most published work.

There is a school of critics that, when faced with the necessity of saying something about an obscene work, tends to take the itVnot-amusing-itV just-dull line. Thus Carlyle, in his essay on Diderot, spoke of Diderot s writing the beastliest of all past, present or future dull Novels; a difficult feat, unhappily not an impossible one ; and the late George Saintsbury agreed, in his History of the French Novel that it really would require a most unpleasant apprenticeship to scavenging in order to discover a dirtier and duller/ 15 Actually, Diderot s work was far from dull Quite to the contrary, it was lively lively with ideas, lively with dialogue, lively with sallies. It was smutty perhaps, as a French critic believes, the circum stances of Diderot s disordered youth had served to dirty his imagination 16 but it wasn t dull. And the most honest criticism of it would be some thing like that which appeared in a recent history of French literature: Its verve and keenness do not excuse its obscenity. 17

Diderot was a little out of his element in writing about a king and his mistress, and this evidently was palpable to people of the time who were sensitive to social nuances. The Abbe Raynal, reviewing Les Bijoux, called the book obscure, poorly written, in a coarse and vulgar tone, and by a man ill-acquainted with the milieu he has desired to depict. The author is M. Diderot, who has very extensive knowledge and a great deal of wit, but who is not suited for the genre in which he has just written. 18 Other con temporary criticisms were also adverse, although one of the most hostile of all admitted the verve of the work. One cannot deny, wrote this critic, that his Bijoux frequently say some very sensible things; but they are


TWO VERY DIFFERENT BOOKS 87

wrapped up in so many dirty and cynical images and expressions, that their utility can never be comparable to the danger to which the most dispas sionate mind would be exposed in reading them/ 19

Years after the publication of Les Bijoux indiscrets, Diderot professed to Naigeon that he regretted having written it. He often assured me that if he could make good this error by the loss of a finger, he would not hesitate to sacrifice it for the sake of suppressing entirely this delirium of his imagina tion. 20 Even so, some years after its publication he added two chapters to the original edition internal evidence shows that it could not have been before 1757 21 and we can believe, along with Diderot s later editor, Maurice Tourneux, that if Diderot was willing to sacrifice a finger, it would have been the little one, and that on his left hand. 22

Diderot was, as usual, running risks. It was dangerous to have written such a work, yet it was soon an open secret in Paris as to who the author was. Nor were the police the last to learn of it. An informer named Bonin, a most interesting character who operated a supposedly clandestine press, wrote to the Lieutenant-General of Police not later than 29 January 1748 that Dridot had just given to the public Les Bijoux indiscrets; and on 14 February of that year the same informant wrote that it is Mr. Durand, Rue St. Jacques, who had Les Bijoux indiscrets printed and who sells them. He bought the copy from Dridot for 1200 livres. This publisher is very worried, as are also Messrs. David and Briasson, who fear that something might happen to Dridrot that would suspend the Dictionary of Medicine of which Dridrot is editor. 23

Diderot, moreover, increased the risks he was already running by having a hand in the preparation of a fairy story called L Oiseau blanc, conte bleu ( The White Bird ), a conte bleu signifying a sort of unbelievable, fabulous tale. 24 The White Bird was patently inspired by the Arabian Nights: a sultana, finding it difficult to go to sleep, has this story told to her during a succession of seven nights, with infallible soporific effect. It is likely to have that effect on the reader too, for The White Bird, which recounts the ad ventures of Genistan, the son of the Emperor of Japan, whom a wizard had metamorphosed into a pigeon and who regained his pristine state only after being touched by the wand of the fairy Truth, is a mawkish and insipid tale even though it did receive the honor of a German translation in 1907. Presumably it was written as a sequel to Les Bijoux indiscrets, for it re- introduces some of the characters from that book, but it has none of the bite and none of the social comment that distinguished Les Bijoux. There are some commonplaces about truth and how truth does not customarily reside


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


at courts, but these mild platitudes are far from the questing fierceness with which the mind of Diderot usually pursued truth, seeking her in the sci entific and methodological developments of his time. Indeed, the contrast between this tale and anything else Diderot ever wrote is enough to raise the question of whether he really did write it. He himself emphatically dis owned it. Then, under pressure, he added, It is by a lady whom I might name, since she herself doesn t conceal it. If I have any part in this work, it is rather in having corrected its orthography, against which ladies with the greatest intelligence are always somewhat at fault/ 25 Yet Naigeon, in spite of this testimony, published L Oiseau blanc in his edition of Diderot s works appearing in 1798, the first publication of the tale. Naigeon, whom Diderot had appointed as his literary executor, was certainly in a position to know. Consequently, critics have accepted L Oiseau blanc as being from the hand of Diderot, or at least greatly affected by him. 26

The White Bird is really composed of very uninflammable stuff. But evidently rumors were rife about it at the time, for the police, under the impression that it contained derisive allusions to the King and Mme de Pompadour, tried hard to track it down. Considering its literary merits, all that can be said is that this official perturbation complimented the work a good deal more than it deserved.

Les Bijoux indiscrets was the sort of book that might seriously impair a man s scholarly reputation. What was even worse, Diderot did not yet have much of one to destroy. By his own confession, he hoped that his Memoires sur different sujets de mathematiques, on which he was working in early 1748, would prove to the public that I was not entirely unworthy of the choice of the associated publishers [of the Encyclopedic]. 27 At the same time he had undertaken a translation of Joseph Bingham s monumental Origines ecclesiasticae, or the Antiquities of the Christian Church, a translation which certainly was never published and possibly never completed. 28 It is probable, however, that Diderot put his knowledge of Bingham to good account in the Encyclopedic, especially in view of the fact that both works are well- informed about the multitudinous heresies of the Christian Church. Also in 1748 Diderot was persistently reported to be working on a History of the Expeditions of England, but this rumor was evidently erroneous, for the French edition of Thomas Lediard s Naval History of England, pub lished eventually at Lyon in 1751, was the translation, by all accounts, not of Diderot, but of De Puisieux, the husband of Diderot s mistress. 29

Of greater importance in this year of varied intellectual activity was the fact, asserted by Diderot in his 1749 statement to the police, that 1 have


TWO VERY DIFFERENT BOOKS 89

done the Exposition du systime de musique de M. Rameau! 30 This inter esting remark for Rameau was the most significant French composer of the eighteenth century, the discoverer* of thorough-bass, and a musician whose music still has both freshness and body has set bibliographers won dering as to just which work was meant. Raynal, reviewing Diderot s Memoirs on Mathematics, remarked that Diderot was f an intimate friend of M. Rameau, whose discoveries he is presently going to publish. This sublime and profound musician published formerly some works in which he did not include sufficient clarity and elegance. M. Diderot will rework these ideas, and he is most capable of setting them forth to excellent ad vantage. Sometime later the same journalist remarked: Our very illustrious and celebrated musician, M. Rameau, claims to have discovered the prin ciple of harmony. M. Diderot has lent him his pen in order to set forth this important discovery to its best advantage. 31 Perhaps this work was Rameau s Demonstration du principe de I harmonie (Paris, 1750), and indeed the evidence seems to suggest that it was. D Hemery, the police inspector who confiscated La Promenade du sceptique, entered in his journal for 17 Feb ruary 1752 that the Siemens de musique theorique et pratique suivant les principes de M. Rameau was done by Diderot. 32 This work, however, was always claimed by D Alembert, and it is probable that in this instance D Hemery was mistaken. It is certain, however, that the versatile Diderot was, in some ghost-writing way, associated with the greatest French musician of the century, an association which incidentally had a great cooling-off when Rameau began to attack Rousseau s articles on music in the Encyclopedic ?*

Diderot s Memoir es sur differ ens sujets de mathematiques was published by Pissot and Durand, the latter being the Durand of the publishers of the Encyclopedic, and was brought out in a format de luxe, with six delightful engravings, as, for example, cupids tracing # s on a sheet of paper, or fixing pegs in the cylinder of a mechanical organ, so that, as Tourneux remarked, the volume is one of the most coquettish that was ever published on such arid subjects/ 34 Diderot wrote in his signed dedication to a Mme de P * * * probably Mme de Premontval, a mathematician and the wife of a mathematician, and not Mme de Puisieux 35 I am giving up the cap and bells, never to take them up again. 1

The five mathematical papers were summarized by Diderot as follows : L The general principles of the science of sound, with a special method of fixing the pitch, in such a manner that one may play a piece of music on exactly the same pitch at whatsoever time or place; II. A new compass made of the circle and its involute, with some of its uses; III. Examination of a


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


principle of mechanics concerning the tension of cords . . . ; IV. Project for a new organ . . . [this was the article that had been published anony mously in the Mercure de France the preceding year]; V. A letter on the resistance of the atmosphere to the movement of pendulums, with an ex amination of the theory of Newton on this subject.

The Mtmoires sur differens sujets de mathematiques received a very good press. The censor to whom the manuscript had been submitted set the tone, for he remarked that these papers were treated with great sagacity. 36 Diderot was beginning to make his mark. M. Diderot (to judge by this essay)/ wrote the Journal des Sgavans, is very much in a position to give learned solutions to difficulties that require nice and intricate calculation/ 3T The Jesuit Journal de Trevoux invited the continuation of such researches on the part of a man as clever and able as M. Diderot appears to us to be, of whom we should also observe that his style is as elegant, trenchant, and unaffected as it is lively and ingenious. 38 And the Mercure de France re marked: Here is quite a number of new views in a volume that with its table of contents includes not more than 250 pages. The author was already known to be a man of a great deal of wit. Upon reading these memoirs, one will discover that he adds to this advantage that of also being a learned musician, an ingenious mechanician, a profound geometrician/ 39 It is no wonder that the Abbe Raynal thought it time to modify his opinion of this rising star. In introducing his review of the Memoires sur . . . mathe matiques, he began: I don t know whether you have heard of a M. Diderot, who has a good deal of wit and very extensive knowledge. He has made himself known by his writings, most of them imperfect, yet filled with erudition and genius, 40

A recent and authoritative article on Diderot as a mathematician con cludes that by this series of papers he proved himself competent and original. Moreover, he also demonstrated himself to be conversant with the current developments in the field, especially the works of Euler and D Alembert. He was well grounded in the earlier mathematical literature, judging from his acquaintance with the ideas of Pythagoras, Aristoxenes, Gassendi, Halley and Flamsteed, Newton and others referred to in his Memoires!* 1 And Julian Coolidge remarked, C I cannot leave Diderot without expressing my admiration for his really stimulating mathematical work, when his other interests were so large and so varied. 42

We might well suppose that by this volume Diderot had proved once for all his mathematical competence. Yet by a strange twist of fortune he has become known to a large part of the English-reading public as a mathe-


TWO VERY DIFFERENT BOOKS 9!

matical dunce. Some twenty-five years after Diderot had published these mathematical papers, a story circulated around Berlin about a practical joke that may (or may not) have been played upon him during his visit to Saint Petersburg. According to this story, a Russian philosopher offered to prove to Diderot algebraically the existence of God. So, in the presence of the Court and with the secret acquiescence of the Empress, the story goes, the Russian philosopher gravely approached Diderot and said in a tone ringing

a 4- b n

with conviction, Sir, i=x. Therefore God exists. Reply. The point z

of this story, as originally told, was that Diderot, momentarily casting about for the most effective reply to the ineptitude of this alleged proof, sensed from the attitude of the courtiers that a joke was being played upon him and that all those present were in on it. The Berlin source did not include Diderot s reply, but it did state that this misadventure caused Diderot to apprehend that others might be in store and convinced him that the intel lectual climate of Russia was not congenial, so that he soon signified his desire to return to France. 43

In the course of time the point of this story became twisted, so that it is often told by authors of books on popular mathematics as an illustration of the horrible fate that awaits a person ignorant of mathematics. The anecdote was published in 1867 and 1872 by an English author, De Morgan, with gratuitous additions; first, that the Russian philosopher involved was Euler, and second, that algebra was Hebrew to Diderot. 44 Bell, in his Men of Mathematics, tells the story as it was twisted by De Morgan, his only variation being in the remark that all mathematics was Chinese to Diderot. 45 And Lancelot Hogben begins his Mathematics for the Million with this same dramatic tale, his variant being that algebra was Arabic to Diderot. 46 How the story has been contorted and has grown to this misshapen state has been remarked on by three contemporary scholars, one of whom says, in allusion to the De Morgan-Bell-Hogben fabrication, That is the story, and it is a very good story, except that it isn t true. 47

As Diderot went through life, he lost faith in Christian immortality, and instead fixed his hopes on the sort that comes from having one s deeds live in the memory of posterity. Could he be aware that the rank and file of posterity, at least in English-speaking countries, are now likely to remember him more for being mathematically illiterate than perhaps for any other thing, he might be tempted to hedge his bet.


CHAPTER 8


Letter on the Blind


THE French Enlightenment not merely originated new ideas : it applied them to existing institutions.

And eventually, of course, the process burst a good many old bottles. This attitude made the philosophes, with Diderot a leader among them, the radicals and the unconscious revolutionaries of their day. Indeed, their pronounced interest in practical affairs has justly earned for the philosophes the reputation of being reformers but at the cost of their reputation as phi losophers. Diderot s own progressive outlook and concern with practical matters were evidenced at this time by a pamphlet advocating a reform that finally was brought about in 1793. This anonymous work, dated 16 Decem ber 1748, was entitled First Letter from a Zealous Citizen Who is neither a Surgeon nor a Physician, To Monsieur D. M. . . . In which is Proposed a Means for Settling the Troubles that for a long Time have Divided Medi cine and Surgery. 1 The condition that had aroused Diderot s interest was a preposterous though long-standing division of labor in French medicine. This practice decreed that in the treatment of patients, physicians might not operate and surgeons working on the case might not express an opinion that in any way had to do with general or internal medicine. Moreover, the physicians considered themselves infinitely superior, socially and intellectually, to the surgeons. The origin of this irrational distinction, or what the soci ologist is fond of calling the peckingorder, goes back to medieval times, when all physicians were clerics. This had the not unnatural tendency, in cidentally, of causing them to neglect gynecology and obstetrics, a field which was left to the midwives; but what was more to the point, their status as clerics forbade their shedding blood. Since they could not perform opera tions, this was done by the barber-chirurgeons. Moreover, physicians, com ing from the class of bourgeois notables, were forbidden under pain of

92


LETTER ON THE BLIND 93

losing their status to exercise for gain any skill requiring the use of hands. 2 The social results of this sort of snobbery were painfully evident and, as is so often the case in jurisdictional disputes, it was the public who suffered the most. Against this Diderot inveighed. What are we about? he cried. Where is our shame? Where is our humanity?

Diderot s solution was for both physicians and surgeons to be united in the same body under the same name. Aesculapius, Hippocrates, and Galen practiced both medicine and surgery, he remarked. Therefore, what disad vantage is there today in the same person s ordering and executing a blood letting? Let . . . doctors and surgeons form a single corps; let them be assembled in the same college, where students may learn the operations of surgery and where the speculative principles of the art of healing may be explained to them. . . / 8

The Letter from a Zealous Citizen bespeaks an interest in medicine which is not at all surprising in one who had spent so much time and energy in translating James s Medicinal Dictionary. This interest remained constant with Diderot throughout the years, so that one finds him a close friend of the Genevese, Theodore Tronchin, the most famous doctor of his generation in all of Europe, and of Theophile de Bordeu (1722-76), a pioneer in the study of glands and mucous membrane. Diderot also delighted in the study of anatomy, and lost no opportunity, for example, to praise the anatomical models devised by a Mile Biheron. 4 Diderot s profoundly thoughtful and speculative D Alembert s Dream is based upon a great variety of medical and physiological knowledge, and one of his last books was Elements de physiologic (1774-80). The fact is, he wrote late in life, it is very difficult to think cogently in metaphysics or ethics without being an anatomist, a naturalist, a physiologist, and a physician. 5

Even in the wording of its title, the Letter from a Zealous Citizen betokens the changing social values of an age beginning to be on the march. The eighteenth century was commencing to emphasize the concept of belonging, of citizenship. Diderot was among the leaders of this movement, and the term citoyeri appears very frequently in the pages of the Encyclopedic. Destined by the time of 93 to bear pungent and sometimes bitter fruit, citizen was one of the pleasant and slightly radical words of the eighteenth century. Thus we have Diderot ending his letter with a fine humanistic flourish: I am a good citizen, and everything that concerns the welfare of society and the life of my fellow men is very interesting to me. 6

Problems of citizenship, it so happened, were being canvassed rather generally in France in 1749, for this was a year of hunger and distress,


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


accompanied by a considerable ferment of opposition to the government. 7 In part the unrest was caused by discontent with the Treaty of Aix-la- Chapelle, which had recently brought to an end the War of the Austrian Succession and which, said the captious, was the peace that passeth all understanding. There was also disquiet owing to the opposition of the privi leged classes, especially the clergy, to the imposition of a tax called the vingtieme, promulgated in May of 1749, which would have had the effect of introducing into the French governmental system the principle of the obligation of everyone to pay proportionate taxes. 8 The attempt to enforce this simplest sort of elementary fairness in the incidence of taxation was bitterly resisted and obstructed by the privileged classes, whose previous connections with public finance had been more on the receiving than the

paying end.

In retrospect, 1749 seems a crucial year in the history of the eighteenth century and the annals of the French monarchy, in part because of what happened to Diderot and Rousseau within that twelvemonth. No doubt to a person taking the auspices at that particular moment, only the faintest hint of thunder could be heard on the left. Yet the intellectual climate of opinion experienced a new pressure front that very year. A nineteenth- century editor of Barbier s Journal, a major source for the history of France in the eighteenth century, remarked that the year 1749 is a remarkable date in the literary history of the eighteenth century. It is at this date that writings hostile to religion appear and multiply. . . . Henceforth war breaks out between skepticism and faith. Barbier, who up to this point has spoken only of ballad writers and poets, now speaks of the philosophes. It is at this point that the real eighteenth century begins. 9

Seventeen hundred forty-nine was a year of transition in France. It marked the epoch when intellectual prestige was transferring its headquarters to a new field, while subjects hitherto regarded as almost untouchable mysteries began to be matters for critical comment. The crucial nature of this year was observed by a French historian, Rulhiere, even before the Revolution. Being welcomed into the French Academy in 1787, Rulhiere mentioned in his formal discourse that the year 1749 was the one in which a general revolu tion in manners and in letters began. In that very year in which were pro duced all these great philosophical works, we saw beginning a succession of unfortunate events that little by little and from day to day stripped from the government that public approbation and esteem that up to that time it had enjoyed; and while we passed from the love of belles-lettres to the love of philosophy, the nation, owing to a change explained by causes quite


LETTER ON THE BLIND 95

different, passed over from acclamations to complaints, from songs of tri umph to the clamor of perpetual remonstrances, from prosperity to fears of a general ruin, and from a respectful silence regarding religion to im portunate and deplorable quarrels. . . . The capital [Paris], which for so long a time had been the prompt and docile imitator of the sentiments, taste, and opinions of the Court, at the same time ceased to have for the latter its old-time deference. Then it was that there arose among us what we have come to call the empire of public opinion. Men of letters immediately had the ambition to be its organs, and almost its arbiters. A more serious pur pose diffused itself in intellectual works: the desire to instruct manifested itself in them more than the desire to please. The dignity of men of letters, a novel but an accurate expression, quickly became an approved expression and one in common use. 10

Manifestations of the growing malaise in the French body politic, first identifiable in 1749, were even then interpreted by some as the beginning of a revolution. The Marquis d Argenson recorded in his famous journal on i May 1751 that people are talking of nothing but the necessity of an early revolution because of the bad condition in which the government finds itself internally. 1:L It is very much worth remembering that the Encyclopedic was being prepared and its first volumes published against this background of confused and muted discontent.

In contrast, Diderot s personal affairs seemed prosperous. In 1748 and 1749 he continued to receive regularly his monthly stipend of 144 livres. To this could be added the 1200 livres he is known to have received for Les Bijoux indiscrets, and he may have received something for Memoires sur di-fferens sujets de mathematiques, though of this there is no record. The added security of his financial position was reflected in his moving his family from the Rue Mouffetard to a third-floor apartment in a building, built in 1681 and still standing, at 3 Rue de TEstrapade. 12 Perhaps, one thinks as one ascends the stairs, Diderot walked up and down these steps and slid his hand along this very stair rail. Perhaps it was at this very landing that Mme Diderot assaulted the neighbor s servant girl. Or, observing the house from across the street, one gazes at the very window from which Diderot s wife, perhaps with her three-year-old son at her side, looked down to see her husband carried away by the police. 13

Diderot, although he was not now living quite so surreptitiously, was still keeping his marriage a secret from his relatives at Langres, and that may have been the reason why he seems to have made no effort to go home at the time of his mother s death in October 1748. He inherited some property


Q g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

from her estate, but just how much or when it became available is not

known. 14

During these months the Encyclopedic, of course, continued to be in active preparation, and Diderot, besides writing manuscripts to enhance his reputation as a savant (such, for example, as the forthcoming Letter on the Blind], was occupied with all the organizing, directing, persuading, and exhorting that his position entailed. Probably he made it a point to pay somewhat ceremonious visits to important contributors, i we may judge from an incident in 1751 when the Chevalier de Jaucourt proposed to call upon Diderot in order to volunteer his services. 1 shall be charmed indeed to have the honor of seeing you at my house, wrote Diderot, but allow me to pay you a visit. 15 No doubt Diderot went the rounds on errands like this in 1748, if his being reimbursed on several occasions for cab fare is any indication. 16 In addition he made extensive use of the Royal Library, now called the Bibliotheque Nationale, and on occasion was granted the unusual privilege of borrowing books from it. In his prospectus for the Encyclopedic, Diderot acknowledged the invaluable assistance of the Royal Librarian, and the registers in which are recorded his numerous withdrawals still exist. 17 The work on the Encyclopedic was going on apace, but, as the publishers of the venture were soon to learn, all came to a stop if Diderot was not there.

Seventeen hundred forty-nine was a memorable year in the life of Diderot. And so it was to many others. To the let- em-eat-cake segments of society it was noteworthy for the first appearance of a live rhinoceros in Paris. To transport him on land, a covered wagon, drawn sometimes by twenty horses, has been used. He eats up to sixty pounds of hay and twenty pounds of bread a day, and drinks fourteen pails of water. He eats everything but meat and fish/ reported Raynal in his news letter. And then he added, It ap pears that so far rhinoceroses have not been very useful. 1S To other elements of society, especially authors, 1749 came to mean a year selected by the government to attempt by confiscations, arrests, and imprisonments to dis courage the expression of radical ideas. 19 D Argenson remarked in August that because of the great number of such arrests the Paris prisons were so full that some of the culprits had to be sent to Vincennes and other outlying prisons. 20 And it was just this year that Diderot chose for the publication of an extremely original, controversial, and dangerous book.

This work, Lettre sur les aveugles h V usage de ceux qui voient ( Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those Who See ), combined a great deal of sci entific observation with some very upsetting metaphysical speculation. It was printed clandestinely by a printer named Simon; was sold under the


LETTER ON THE BLIND 97

counter, of course by Durand, one o the four publishers of the Ency clopedic; and was published or, at least, was ready for bootlegging on 9 June I749- 21 The book greatly enhanced Diderot s reputation as a man of letters and a learned person, as the very fact of Voltaire s letter to him in acknowledgment of a presentation copy amply signifies; but its publication was also the occasion for a frightening experience which evidently chastened him a good deal. The appearance of the Letter on the Blind, therefore, ushered in a period of major crisis in the life of a man who could not keep himself from continually meditating on new ideas.

The particular occasion for the book, which had to do with the psychology of blind people and with what must be the ethical ideas of a person deprived of one of his senses, was an operation performed in Paris to restore sight. News had gotten about that a Prussian oculist, sponsored by the well-known French scientist Reaumur he of the thermometer, and the man who first worked out the technique of the artificial incubation of eggs was going to couch the cataracts of a girl born blind. Diderot claimed that he and many others with scientific interest in the case had asked to be present when the bandage was taken off the girl s eyes so that they might observe her at the moment when she was first able to see objects. But Reaumur had re fused such requests: In a word, wrote Diderot, he has not wished to let the veil fall except in the presence of some eyes of no importance/ 22 The eyes of no importance, according to Mme de Vandeul, were those belonging to Mme Dupre de Saint-Maur, the wife of an obscure writer who owed his seat in the French Academy either to his translation of Paradise Lost (1729) or to certain connections formed by his wife no one seemed to be quite sure which. This lady was on very friendly terms not only with Reaumur but also with Count d Argenson, the Secretary of State for War who, since 1737, had been the Director of Publications. It may have been, therefore, that personal reasons, as well as reasons of state, accounted for Diderot s arrest. 23 It is certain that Diderot s relations with Reaumur from then on were unsettled and at length became antagonistic.

The Letter on the Blind is a disarming book, written with the seeming artlessness of someone idly improvising on a musical instrument.* One subject suggests another, so that the reader, led on and on through a sort of steeplechase over most of the various metaphysical jumps, finally gets him self soaked in the water hole called Does God Exist? The work begins with a number of acute firsthand observations of the behavior of a man

An English translation is in Margaret Jourdain, Diderot s Early Philosophical Worlds (Chi cago, 1916), 68-142.


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


born blind, a man of considerable intelligence whom Diderot knew per sonally. In addition, Diderot used supplementary information about the behavior of the blind, and especially about the acuteness of their senses of hearing and touch, which he found in the introduction to Nicholas Saunder- son s Elements of Algebra. Saunderson, blind from birth, had been a famous Cambridge professor of mathematics, his particular specialty being, of all things, optics. To help himself in imagining geometrical problems and in making computations, he had devised a sort of arithmetical and geometrical abacus, a palpable arithmetic/ as the title of his book described it. After explaining the operation of this device, Diderot began to speculate upon the kind of concepts of God and of right and wrong that a person must have who has less than the normal number of senses. This was an original way of thinking about such matters, for it clearly suggested that our ideas about God and morality are not absolute but relative to our physical make-up and endowment. No wonder that some people sniffed materialism in this point of view, especially as Diderot invented what purported to be a veridical account of Saunderson s death-bed conversation in which the professor was made to declare that If you want me to believe in God, you must make me touch Him. 24

By this method of thinking, Diderot was experimenting with a type of investigation that has since been very successfully developed in medicine, biology, and psychology. It is the method of trying to find out about the nature of the normal by studying the abnormal, of learning about the nature of the well through studying the diseased. It was always characteristic of Diderot to study the pathology and teratology of a subject in order the better to understand its normalities. And because this line of thought led him to meditate on monsters and how their malformations make them unfitted to survive, he began to speculate about the emergence and modifica tion of biological species in a way that clearly foreshadows Darwinism. 25

The last third of the Letter on the Blind speculates on the famous question propounded by William Molyneux (1656-98) : suppose a blind man, in the instant of recovering his sight, to see a cube and a sphere resting on a table. Would he be able to distinguish the cube from the sphere by sight, without touching them? This brain-cracker, fundamentally similar to problems in perception that are still puzzling psychologists, deeply concerned the phi losophers of the eighteenth century because the answer to it would throw light upon such fundamental topics as how human beings think and how they know what they know. 26 It was in the hope of securing some light


LETTER ON THE BLIND 99

on the Molyneux problem that Diderot had wished to be present when Reaumur had the bandage taken off the girl with the cataracts.

The Letter on the Blind, which was addressed to a lady, perhaps Mmc de Puisieux, reveals some interesting characteristics of its author. First, of course, there was that nimbus of the personal and intimate that characterizes so much of Diderot s writing, even the most scientific, and which frequently invades the columns of the Encyclopedic, where one might suppose all to be impersonal and austere. In the ILetter, too, Diderot s notorious fondness for straying from the highroad of his theme and picking sweetly scented but somewhat irrelevant nosegays is strongly marked : There we are, a long way from our blind people, you ll say; but you must have the goodness, Madame, to forgive me all these digressions: I have promised you a con versation, and I cannot keep my word without this indulgence. 27

More importantly, the "Letter on the Blind shows Diderot to be a con siderable scientist: in his knowledge of the previous literature of the subject, in the accuracy of his observations, as well as in the wealth of his hypotheses concerning what these observations might mean. His work shows, for example, that he was familiar with Descartes Dioptrics, the writings of Bishop Berkeley and of Condillac, Voltaire s Elements of Newton s Phi losophy, and Saunderson s Elements of Algebra, a book not translated into French until 1756.

It is impressive, too, to observe how seriously Diderot s observations on the psychology of the blind have been taken by scientists and professional workers in that field. One of the curiosities in the Boston Public Library is a translation of Diderot s work, made by Samuel Gridley Howe and printed in raised letters at the Perkins Institution for the Blind in 1857. The preface remarks that the work abounds with beauties which they [the blind] can keenly relish, & with valuable suggestions by which they may profit. In particular, as Dr. Gabriel Farrell, the present director of the Perkins Institution, has said: Diderot seems to have been first to call the attention of the scientific world to the superior sensory capacities of the blind. 28 And the late Pierre Villey, a blind professor of literature at the University of Caen, although he contested Diderot s principal thesis, namely that a blind man s intellect, personality, and ethical notions are different from those of a man with sight, nevertheless acknowledged that Diderot had foreseen the proper treatment for a Helen Keller, had evinced a remark able taste for psychological observation, and was completely a pioneer in his speculations upon the psychology of the blind. 29


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

No doubt one of Diderot s intentions in publishing the Letter on the Blind was to display his qualifications for being editor of the forthcoming Encyclopedic. By this time it was generally known that he was to have an important connection with the publication, even though the formal pros pectus was not to be circulated for over a year. The Journal de Trevoux of April 1749, for instance, alluded to his preparing the Universal Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences. 30 Certainly the Letter on the Blind disclosed to the public what he could do and on what platform he stood. It revealed as the cornerstone of Diderot s manner of thought his assumption, based on the writings of John Locke, that the only thing the mind has to work with is the evidence conveyed to it by the senses. Put the other way around, this doctrine asserted that the mind does not have born within it any notions of morality or religion, but simply builds up these concepts upon the evidence communicated to it by the senses. This constant and exclusive reference to the teachings of experience became the foundation stone for the psycho logical doctrine known as sensationalism. These views of Locke had first gained circulation in France through Voltaire, who cited them approvingly in his controversial and widely read Lettres philosophiques (1734)- By mid- century they had become the official epistemology, so to speak, of the emerging school of philosophes. From the very first page of the Encyclo- ptdic, from the very first words of D Alembert s Preliminary Discourse, which is rightly regarded as one of the monuments of the intellectual history of man, this point of view is taken for granted. This was the basis of the scientific and critical spirit that characterized the Encyclopedic and made it the engine for transmuting the values of a whole society. For this doctrine, as we explore its implications in problems like the nature of being, the nature of reality, the nature of knowing, and the nature of God, is extremely corrosive and dissolvent to any religious authority based simply upon revelation and to any political authority based simply upon pre scription. To those writers who wanted to rally around such a battle standard, Diderot s Letter on the Blind served as a recruiting placard: Sign up with me! And it is perhaps this quality that accounts for the three editions of Letter on the Blind appearing in 1749, and for its receiving the flattering attention of Voltaire. 31

Besides seeking to persuade people to have faith in his intellectual com petence, the Letter on the Blind was a personal document constituting a further step in the development of Diderot s philosophical thought. Starting from the mildly theistic footnotes to his translation of Shaftesbury, written most probably in 1744, Diderot had come, in the course of five years, through


LETTER ON THE BLIND 101

the way stations of deism (the Philosophical Thoughts and On the Suf ficiency of Natural Religion), and then of skepticism (La Promenade du sceptique), until by 1749 ^ e ^zd reached a pretty thoroughly materialistic position: If you want me to believe in God, you must make me touch Him! All this had been accomplished at a fairly mature age, between thirty-one and thirty-six, and it was done in a spirit that could be described as more proscientific than antireligious. There was nothing hysterical or frenetic in Diderot s casting off his belief in orthodox Christianity and then his belief in any God at all. On the contrary, his attitude had been rather like that of a man who, without alacrity and without regret, simply discards tools that he no longer regards as capable of doing the job.

The Letter on the Blind was the occasion for putting Diderot into touch for the first time with Voltaire. The latter, evidently having received an advance copy of the book, replied at length in a letter dated simply June. 32 Voltaire, who by conviction was a deist and who, moreover, thought that he would have his throat cut if his servants ever came to believe that there is no God, expostulated with Diderot on the tendency of his argument toward atheism. It was a skillful letter, written by the master whose flattery was so exquisite and so appetizing that, as Lord Macaulay said, It was only from his hand that so much sugar could be swallowed without making the swallower sick. And he ended by inviting Diderot to come to see him and partake of a philosophical repast.

It was a heady invitation, and Diderot replied that the moment of receiving Voltaire s letter was one of the sweetest of his life. Still, he did not go. There is in his reply a certain standofEshness which his relations with Voltaire constantly exhibited until the latter s death in 1778. Through the years it was usually Voltaire who accepted the burden of initiating a correspondence, infrequent as that was, and Diderot who delayed in replying or did not reply at all. Probably a stubborn desire to remain completely independent, added to the fact that the two men did not see eye to eye on matters of philosophical belief, explains why Diderot treated somewhat distantly the century s most famous man of letters. 33

To Voltaire s arguments about a deistic universe, Diderot replied in this letter, I believe in God, although I live very happily with atheists. ... It is ... very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God. 34 And having disposed of the matter so sum marily, Diderot went on to ask Voltaire to accept copies of the Memoirs on Different Subjects of Mathematics, one for himself and one for Mme du Chatelet, Voltaire s mistress and an excellent mathematician and physicist.


102 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

Diderot referred to this lady with deference and was evidently overawed by her mathematical accomplishments. Thus the lives of these two persons briefly touched in a year that was to be crucial for both. In six weeks Diderot saw closing upon him the gates of a royal prison of which a kinsman of Mme du Chatelet happened to be in charge; within three months of Diderot s sending her his book, the lady herself was dead, in tragic and grotesque childbirth. What shall we do about the child? Voltaire had been asked when it was first realized that Mme du Chatelet, through a liaison with the poet Saint-Lambert, was pregnant. Don t let that trouble you, said Voltaire airily. We shall give the child a place among Madame du Chatelet s miscellaneous works. 35

The portion of Diderot s letter referring to Mme du Chatelet has only recently been discovered. In this same overlooked portion Diderot excuses himself from meeting with Voltaire because of exhaustion and because of tensions in his private life. O Philosophy, Philosophy! what good are you if you do not blunt either the pricks of grief and of vexations or the sting of the passions? 36 No doubt he was somewhat exaggerating, in order to make his excuses more plausible; but nevertheless his allusions to overwork, family dissension, and enslavement to Mme de Puisieux throw interesting light on Diderot s condition and state of mind in early June of 1749.


CHAPTER


Diderot in Prison


A 1 ,


SEVEN-THIRTY in the morning of Thursday, 24 July 1749, two police officers climbed the stairs of the house in the Rue de 1 Estrapade. One of them was D Hemery, the man who had previously searched for the manuscript of La Promenade du sceptique. He and his companion, a man named Rochebrune, were ad mitted by Diderot to his apartment and began to search for any manuscripts contrary to Religion, the State, or morals/ It is possible, some authorities think, that Diderot may have expected such a visitation, for the police found nothing but twenty-one pasteboard cases containing manuscripts that they thought pertained to Chambers Cyclopaedia. On a large table serving as a desk were found more manuscripts concerning the same work, and two copies of the Letter on the Blind. In the presence of the said Diderot, re ported the police, we continued our search in the other rooms, and having opened the wardrobes and chests of drawers, found no papers therein. 1 This testimony of Commissioner Rochebrune incidentally affords some insight into the conditions of Diderot s daily work, suggesting that he did much of his writing at home, f on a large table serving as a desk. This routine, however, was about to be suddenly and completely altered, for D Hemery told Diderot that he was under arrest.

It was by virtue of one of the notorious writs known as lettres de cachet that Diderot was arrested and imprisoned. Lettres de cachet have become one of the most odious symbols of the ancien regime, as every reader of A Tale of Two Cities can gauge by consulting his own feelings. Though numerous the leading modern historian of Jansenism asserts that forty thousand were issued in the seventeen years of Cardinal Fleury s administra tion alone 2 perhaps the lettres de cachet were not in reality so abusive as they came to seem. Apologists for the good old days point out that for the most part they were used to straighten out family tangles, just as Father

103


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Diderot had secured one in 1742 in order to cool off his hot-headed son, or to enforce with contempt-of-court penalties what might be called injunctions in cases of private morality. Such apologists also emphasize that there is no evidence that these arrest warrants were issued in blank except under very carefully controlled conditions, so that the writs never became, as is often darkly suspected, the legal instruments of unjust vengefulness. There is no record of active maltreatment of persons detained by lettres de cachet: no evidence, for example, of torture or starvation, though there is of forget- fulness. Indeed, orders were given that people should be granted food and treatment in approximate accordance with their social rank. Diderot, for example, was to receive the equivalent of four livres a day for nourriture et attentions! 3 Finally, a lettre de cachet had to bear the countersignature of one of the king s principal ministers, and in this respect unquestionably satisfied the forms as much as could be expected of a warrant for arrest in any country at any time. 4

But lettrss de cachet were much less satisfactory in that they did not have to state the cause for arrest. Furthermore, persons thus arrested were held incommunicado, and it was entirely legal to detain them indefinitely, which was of course a frightening and demoralizing prospect. There came to be a rather widespread feeling in France while Sartine was Lieutenant-General of Police (1759-74) that the practice of issuing lettres de cachet was be coming too extensive; 5 by the time of the Revolution, they had aroused a great sense of injustice. Perhaps lettres de cachet would not have come to seem so great an abuse had they not been the government s favorite method of attempting to discipline men of letters. 6 At first this policy was able to enforce an apparent conformity; but eventually it boomeranged, winning for the monarchy the persistent ill-will of the most articulate element of French society.

Two days before Diderot s arrest, Count d Argenson, acting in his capacity of director of publications, wrote to the Lieutenant-General of Police, *to give orders for putting Mr. Didrot, author of the book on the Blind Man, in Vincennes. Berryer made the order the occasion for instructing his men to find out from Diderot all they could about Letter on the Blind, Pensees philosophiques, Les Bijoux indiscrets, a work called L AlUe des idtes (prob ably La Promenade du sceptique), and LOiseau blanc, conte bleu? On 23 July the lettre de cachet, countersigned by D Argenson, was made out at Compiegne. 8 And on 24 July Diderot and D Hemery made the cab journey, at the king s expense, to Vincennes, an imposing medieval fortress and former royal residence six miles east of the heart of Paris.


DIDEROT IN PRISON 105

Having been turned over to the governor of the place, Francois-Bernard du Chatelet, the relative of Voltaire s mistress and a man whose correspond ence gives the impression that he was well-intentioned but bumbling, Diderot was immediately placed in the central keep, 9 This lofty tower was one of the most conspicuous symbols of the grimmer side of the ancien regime, the very sight of which, wrote the author of an eighteenth-century guide book, causes fear. 10 The edifice has had its most famous and its most gracious depiction in one of Fouquet s beautiful miniatures for the Due de Berry s Book of Hours. It remains today just as it evidently looked to Fouquet in the fifteenth century, when he made his calendar-pictures. Diderot s place of confinement, according to tradition, was in the north west tournelle of the third floor, the floor directly above the room where Prince Hal is said to have died in 1422. Diderot s room was octagonal in shape, approximately thirteen feet square and twenty-eight feet high, with graceful vaultings, a brick floor, a window looking out toward the chateau s entrance gate, and an enormous fireplace, its mantel jutting out about six feet above the floor. The room (at least as seen in 1939; it was later closed to the public), is light and airy and would not have been too unpleasant in the summer season, the time when Diderot was there. It was, in short, a suitable place for meditation; but there was always the very- great risk that he would be left to meditate infinitely longer than he desired. Every day, Mme de Vandeul states, the jailer brought Diderot two candles. But he, who got up and went to bed with the sun, had no use for them, and after a fortnight s accumulation tried to return them. Keep them, keep them, Monsieur! cried the jailer; You have too many of them now but they ll come in very handy in the winter ! - 11

In her distress, Mme Diderot sought an interview with Berryer, who adopted the rough and tough approach. Well, Madam, we ve got your hus band and he d better talk. You might spare him a lot of trouble and hasten his release if you would tell us where his manuscripts are. . . . But his wife disclaimed knowing anything at all about Diderot s works, claiming never to have read any of them. 12 As for the publishers, they were much given in this emergency to bustling about in carriages, as their account books show. 13 The very day of the arrest the publishers addressed a petition to D Argenson in which they stated that the Encyclopedic was on the point of being announced to the public and in which they declared that the detention of M. Diderot, the only man of letters we know of capable of so vast an enterprise and who alone possesses the key of this whole operation, can bring about our ruin. 14


g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

The agitation of the publishers to secure Diderot s release was unre mitting all through the time o his imprisonment. Four days after the arrest they had presented their case to the Chancellor and had come to the conclusion that nothing would be done until the Lieutenant-General of Police had interviewed Diderot and reported thereon. Consequently they besought Berryer to interrogate the prisoner: he [Diderot] is the center where all the parts of the Encyclopedic have to converge; his detention suspends all operations on it and will inevitably bring about our ruin if it should be at all long. 15

The interrogation, which took place in the tower, occurred on 31 July, exactly a week after the arrest. Apparently Diderot was still hoping that he could brazen things out. Already he had persuaded one of the prison officers that golden tongue again to present directly to Berryer a request to be allowed to use the large central room of the storey in which he was con fined, a request evidently annoying to the Marquis du Chatelet, who did not care to have his authority thus short-circuited. 16 During the interview with Berryer, Diderot admitted nothing. Moreover, he declared under oath that he had not written the Letter on the Blind nor caused it to be printed nor had he sold or given the manuscript of it to anyone; that he did not know the identity of the author, that he had not had the manuscript in his pos session either before it was printed or afterward, and that he had not dis tributed or given copies of the book to anyone. As for Les Bijoux indiscrete and Pensees philosophiques, he swore that he had not written them, and he specifically stated that he did not know who was the author of the Pensees. He further claimed not to have written or corrected L Oiseau blanc, but admitted to having written La Promenade du sceptique, saying that the manuscript had been burned. 17 Inasmuch as Berryer learned the very next day from the publisher Durand that Diderot was the author of the Pensees, the Bijoux, and the Lettre sur les aveugles, the magistrate evidently adopted the policy of simply waiting until Diderot saw fit to volunteer more information. 18

Under this sort of duress Diderot began to suffer very much. This was natural enough, for the extreme sociability of his nature and his talkative ness made him less fitted than most people for the rigors of solitary con finement. Though Diderot had been given much more freedom by the time Rousseau was allowed to see him, the visitor found Diderot greatly affected by his imprisonment. The keep had made a terrible impression upon him and, although he was [now] comfortable at the castle and allowed


DIDEROT IN PRISON


to walk where he pleased in a park that was not even surrounded by walls, he needed the society of his friends to avoid giving way to melancholy. 19 Condorcet, a much younger contemporary of Diderot, is reported to have said that Diderot almost went crazy while he was in solitary confinement. 20 This is quite possible, especially in view of Diderot s unusually powerful and vivid imagination and sensitivity. His emotional response to situations

to music, to a generous action, to plays, to pictures, to an act of injustice, to anything either aesthetic or ethical that was beautiful or hideous was extreme. It is therefore quite possible that there was little exaggeration in the long letter that he wrote to Berryer in which he darkly hinted that he might do violence to himself.

This letter of 10 August 1749, in which he states incidentally that my father is still ignorant of my marriage, is as characteristic of Diderot as anything he ever wrote. It contains the sensibility for which he is famous

1 feel that despair will soon finish what my bodily infirmities have greatly advanced ; the bouquets naively thrown at himself by his own willing hand; the torrential and expostulatory style that he made very plausible and con vincing whenever he wrote in passionate defense of his own innocence and virtue; and a certain deliberate obtuseness in failing to conceive what he could possibly have done wrong. And in all this lengthy letter he does not say a word about the Pensees, the Bijoux, or the Letter on the Blind! 21

Writing to D Argenson the same day, Diderot made the same assertions, although more briefly and in a more reserved style. But in this emergency he had bait to dangle in front of the Secretary of War. Alas! Monseigneur, when he [Diderot is here talking of himself] was brought to this prison, he was on the point of publishing the prospectus [of the Encyclopedic] and of soliciting from Your Highness the permission to publish under your auspices this work that has been undertaken for the glory of France and the shame of England, and which is perhaps worthy, at least in this respect, of being offered to a minister who protects the arts and those who cultivate them. 22 This proffer was obviously a bribe, a quid fro quo. It is very interesting to see that Diderot evidently regarded himself as so exclusively the director of the Encyclopedic that he felt free to offer the dedication without first consulting D Alembert or the publishers. It may of course be true that he really had been intending all along to broach the subject to D Argenson and had previously cleared the matter with his associates. But probably he had not, for if he had, the publishers would surely have alluded to it in their petition to D Argenson. Whether D Alembert knew of it or not


o DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

there is no telling. At all events, when the first volume of the Encyclopedic appeared, there was the dedication to D Argenson, the shabby reality making the high-flown phrases sound rather brassy and cracked.

Three days went by and Diderot wrote to Berryer again, on 13 August. This time he confessed. After an elaborate beginning, in which he tried to ensnare Berryer in the toils of his own generous impulses, Diderot wrote, 1 therefore avow to you, as my worthy protector, what the tediousness of a prison and all imaginable penalties would never have made me say to my judge: that the Pcnstcs, the Bijoux, and the Lettre sur Ics aveugles are ex cesses that slipped out of me; but that I can on the other hand pledge my honor (and I have some) that they will be the last, and that they are the only ones. Diderot was evidently in a state of panic, for he even offered to reveal the names of the printers and publishers of his illicit works. He made this offer, however, contingent upon Berryer s giving his word of honor not to use this information in any way whatever to their disadvantage unless they were guilty of recidivism. And Diderot, characteristically, offered to tell them himself what he had done, if Berryer demanded it. 23

This confession got results. Sometime before 21 August, Berryer informed the Marquis du Chatelet that Diderot was to leave the keep and be allowed the freedom of the grounds: His Majesty also saw fit, in view of the editing work with which he is charged, to allow him freely to communicate by writing or orally in the chateau, with the customary precautions, with per sons from the outside who come there either for that purpose or for his domestic affairs. . . . You will have the goodness to have assigned to him in the chateau one or two commodious rooms for sleeping and working, with a bed and such other furniture as you customarily furnish to prisoners in the keep, and nothing more, reserving for him to procure greater con veniences at his own expense if he desires them. 24

Berryer wrote out with his own hand the statement that Diderot had to sign in order to enjoy these new conditions: 1 promise the Lieutenant- General of Police that I will not go beyond the chateau nor its courts nor the enclosure of the royal garden nor the bridges [over the moat] during the time it shall please His Majesty to have me kept a prisoner, submitting my self in case of disobedience on my part regarding the foregoing to be shut up all my life in the keep whence it has pleased the clemency of the King to have me brought forth. 1 25

One of the traditions concerning Diderot s imprisonment in the tower is that he had to improvise writing materials. An account of this was first published in an obscure and rare magazine called La Bigarure, printed at


DIDEROT IN PRISON 109

The Hague. In its number dated 30 October 1749, Diderot being still in prison, La Bigarure told how he used a toothpick for a pen, a mixture o wine and pulverized slate for ink, and for paper a copy of Plato, which the ignorant jailer had allowed him to keep on the theory that no one could get any meaning out of such stuff. 26 Differing versions of the story are told by Mme de Vandeul, Naigeon, and Eusebe Salverte, each of whom pre sumably got his facts from Diderot himself. 27 Their accounts are fairly well reconciled by a document found among the Diderot papers. This is entitled Copy of the Notes written on the Margins of a Volume of Milton s Worths by M. Diderot during his Detention in the Chateau of Vincennes, these notes being The Apology of Socrates, translated from memory. 28 Some writing he assuredly did in the tower, whether authorized or unauthorized, for he wrote the Marquis du Chatelet in late September to ask whether the notebooks that he had filled up there, mostly with notes on BufJon s Natural History, might be returned to him. 29

Because of his demonstrativeness, which always made him very con spicuous in whatever situation he found himself, Diderot s release from the tower was very likely just the sort of tableau that he admired in the pictures of Greuze, genre pictures such as The Village Bride or The Paternal Curse, which endeavored to freeze on canvas a sentimental or violently emotional scene. For here is the situation, as recounted by Mme de Vandeul: At the end of twenty-eight days, my mother was told to go to Vincennes. The associated publishers accompanied her [the publishers account book actually shows an entry for carriage expenses for this very day, 22 August 1749]. 30 Upon her arrival, he was brought out of the tower. . . . The imagination kindles at the scene: Diderot, very much the center of the picture and gesticulating, quite as in real life; his wife, with her back to the beholder and in a bad light, as always; the turnkey, with his keys in his hand; perhaps the Marquis du Chatelet himself, very elegant in courtly attire; at one side the publishers, dressed in sober, bourgeois colors; and, to give variety to the scene, no doubt a barking dog or two, come from the Lord knows where.

Mme de Vandeul went on to describe Diderot s life for the next ten weeks. The Marquis du Chatelet heaped kindnesses upon him, invited him to his table, and took the greatest care to make this stay as little disagreeable and as convenient as possible to my mother. They stayed there three months, then they were permitted to go home. 31 Inasmuch as Rousseau says in the Confessions that he sometimes accompanied Mme Diderot from Paris to Vincennes to visit Diderot, it may be that Mme Diderot did not stay there continuously, in spite of Mme de Vandeul s statement that she did. A picture


IIO DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

of Diderot s routine while in the chateau is also reflected in the Marquis du Chatelet s notes to Berryer. One on 30 August required correction and amplification, for Berryer replied to it the very next day, evidently in alarm lest Diderot was not being held strictly to his word. So Chatelet wrote again on 3 September that Diderot had profited only once from the per mission to move freely in the courts of the chateau. He has gone out three times evenings for an hour with his wife in the park. He is well. Many people come to work with him, but I believe he is unable to get much done here/ 32

Into this Eden Lilith came. Mme de Puisieux paid a visit. But Diderot had become suspicious of her and finally he slipped out over the walls, went to Champigny, saw his mistress there with her new lover, came back, and slept in the park. The next morning he went to inform M. du Chatelet of his escapade, and this little adventure accelerated his rupture with Mme de Puisieux. 33

It is very hard to know how much of this story to believe. On the one hand, a cooling-off in the relations between Diderot and Mme de Puisieux did occur at approximately this time. And although it may seem odd that Mme de Puisieux should visit Diderot at Vincennes while Mme Diderot was there, still Diderot could conceivably have arranged interviews with out his wife s knowledge. But it seems unbelievable, considering the penalty he might incur, that Diderot would take the fearful risk of breaking his parole. Joseph Delort, writing in 1829 with a profusion of underlining^ claimed that Diderot afterward asserted (according to the note that lies before us) that he went out several times at night to go to see in Paris a woman he loved/ 34 M. Delort vouches for this. But who, as Gibbon might ask, will vouch for M. Delort? And Funck-Brentano, also without docu mentation, declares that the Marquis du Chatelet made these escapades possible by conniving at them. 35 Yet, considering the nervousness o Berryer s response to what he thought was an indication of laxity in Du Chatelet s dealing with Diderot, it does not seem likely that the governor of the prison would have been very eager to be accessory to such goings-on. This is the sum of the evidence, vague and uncertain as it is.

Diderot s arrest had caused some public stir and aided a great deal in making his name well known. As early as 26 July, an Abbe Trublet wrote to a lady of his acquaintance about Diderot s imprisonment: It is this last drop of water [Letter on the Blind] that has made the vase overflow, and this has come about, it is said, through the complaints lodged by M. de Reaumur. You know that he is not well treated in the first few pages. 36


DIDEROT IN PRISON HI

Voltaire, writing from Luneville, almost two hundred miles from Paris, knew of Diderot s imprisonment by 29 July, only five days after it had taken place. 37 The entries, not all of them accurate, in the journal of the Marquis d Argenson, brother of the Secretary for War, show that the case was talked about in ministerial and court circles, just as a similar entry in the equally famous journal of the bourgeois, Barbier, proves that Diderot s name was becoming known among lawyers at Paris. 38

Diderot s misfortune had the indirect effect of allowing posterity to know who were the persons, and presumably the most influential persons, with whom he had any connection in 1749. For in his letters to Berryer and D Argenson he mentions as people who could vouch for him, a M. de Bombarde (of whom nothing is now known), Voltaire, Mme du Chatelet (who had acknowledged his gift of a copy of his book on mathematics), 39 Fontenelle, Mme du DefEand, Buffon, Daubenton, Clairaut, Duclos, the Abbe Sallier, Helvetius, and D Alembert. Many of these came to be great names in the eighteenth century, and some were already so. This was true of Voltaire and Mme du Chatelet, and especially of Fontenelle, then ninety- two years old, the author of the History of Oracles and On the Plurality of Worlds, a wonderfully live nonagenarian whom an American sports- writer would inevitably have called the grand old man of French letters. Mme du Deffand (1697-1780) was the celebrated hostess of one of the eight eenth century s most celebrated salons, a lady who maintained her com manding intellectual and social position in spite of the blindness that came upon her, and who is known to English literature primarily because of her interesting and informative correspondence with Horace Walpole. Buffon was the famous naturalist, author of the interminable Histoire naturelle, the first volume of which appeared in that year, a person much like Samuel Johnson in respect to the massiveness and authority of his literary style. His colleague Daubenton (1716-99) was also a naturalist, who later contributed many articles to the Encyclopedic* Clairaut (1713-65) was an astronomer and geometrician whose particular specialty was the movements of the moon. Duclos (1704-72) had written a history of Louis XI and had recently been elected to the French Academy. The Abbe Sallier (1685-1761) was a well-known philologist and custodian of the Royal Library, and Helvetius, then the least known of the lot but eventually destined to unenviable notoriety as the author of a book entitled De I Esprit, was then a farmer- general with an income of some 300,000 livres a year. But if Diderot knew these people no better than it can be demonstrated that he knew Voltaire, Mme du Chatelet, and Fontenelle > then his acquaintance with them was


[I2 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

slight indeed. 40 Nevertheless, it is known that Mme du Chatelet wrote to her kinsman, the governor of Vincennes, asking him to make Diderot s imprisonment as mild as possible, and therefore it is possible that others of these persons did what they could in his behalf. 41

Of one thing Diderot was confident, if we may judge from the prediction contained in his letter to Berryer on 10 August: his father would hasten to Paris as soon as he learned of his son s arrest. How disconcerting it must have been to Diderot, therefore, to find that his father stayed right at Langres and would not budge. Diderot s first letter was not even answered. His second was replied to on 3 September in a missive of which the spelling was frequently phonetic but the meaning unmistakable. Diderot found that he was not the prodigal son. The elder Diderot, his letter shows, had other sources of information about affairs at Paris than just his son s letters. When he wrote, therefore, he wrote with a decidedly detached and astringent air, filling his letter with more sense than comfort. He reminded the son of his mother, In the remonstrances that she made to you by her own lips, she told you several times that you were blind. Didier Diderot s best advice, at least in his estimation, was that Denis should straightway write a book of Christian edification! This will bring down upon you the bene dictions of Heaven and will keep you in my good graces. The father then asked whether it was true that his son was married and had two children, 1 expect that you will not refuse to your sister the pleasure of rearing them, nor to me the pleasure of seeing them under my eyes. About money the crusty old man became quite sardonic but sent a hundred and fifty livres just the same. 42 And probably it was greatly needed in the household in the Rue de 1 Estrapade, for the publishers account book shows that Diderot s salary was discontinued by them during his imprisonment, there being no payment entered between 14 July and late November. 43

The letters that Diderot had written to his father are not extant. Nor is it possible to know what effect the harshness of the letter just quoted had upon him. Probably it convinced him that he would have to make his own peace with the authorities, and that his liberation was not going to be brought about by sentimental arguments or the intercession of relatives. At all events, in this same month of September Diderot volunteered in an undated note a far-reaching promise as to his future conduct: [he] promises to do nothing in the future that might be contrary in the slightest respect to religion and good morals. Under this promise, Berryer wrote, If Count d Argenson deems that he [Diderot] has done sufficient penance for his intellectual excesses, he is entreated to have the King s order sent for his


DIDEROT IN PRISON 113

release. 44 Berryer s note suggests that Diderot s release depended upon his making a solemn promise. If so, it may explain why so many of Diderot s subsequent writings were carefully tucked away in a drawer and never published during his lifetime.

None of Diderot s friends was more alarmed or more solicitous in his behalf than Rousseau. Nothing can ever describe the anguish that my friend s misfortune made me feel. My somber imagination, which always expects the worst, took alarm. I thought he would be there the rest of his life. I almost lost my mind. When he was first able to see Diderot after the release from the tower, Rousseau greeted his friend with embraces, sobs, and tears. D Alembert and a stranger were present, and Diderot said to the latter, perhaps conceitedly but more likely appreciatively, after the strain of three weeks of solitary confinement, You see, Monsieur, how my friends love me. 45

Because of Diderot s imprisonment in Vincennes, the road thither became the scene of the most dramatic event of the Enlightenment. The summer of 1749 was excessively hot/ wrote Rousseau in his Confessions. It is two leagues from Paris to Vincennes. Scarcely able to afford cabs, at two o clock in the afternoon I would set out on foot when I was alone, and I walked fast in order to get there the sooner. . . . often, quite spent by the heat and by fatigue, I would stretch out on the ground able to do no more. In order to go more slowly, I decided to take a book. One day I took the Mercure de France [the October issue] and as I walked and read, I lit upon the question proposed by the Academy of Dijon for its prize for the following year: Whether the progress of the sciences and the arts has contributed to corrupting the morals or purifying them. At the instant of reading this I saw another universe and I became another man. . . . Upon arriving at Vincennes I was in an agita tion bordering upon delirium, Diderot perceived it: I told him the cause. . . . He exhorted me to give rein to rny ideas and to compete for the prize. 46

Carlyle in his essay on Diderot suggests the Biblical self-dedication of the Encyclopedists when he speaks of the Acts of the French Philosophes, a phrase anticipatory of Carl Becker s The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth- Century Philosophers. Using such Scriptural comparisons, it may be said of Rousseau s revelation that in its suddenness and thoroughness it was similar to what happened to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. Rousseau, in a sudden flash of mystical insight, discovered the state of nature, the pristine condition of virtue and purity. He saw with blinding certainty that the arts and sciences, contrary to usual opinion, had made us worse, not better. From then on he was to write books beginning with sentences such


II4 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

as "Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; every thing degenerates in the hands of man (Emile), or Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains (The Social Contract). Rousseau threw himself into this persuasion of the corruption of society with all the passion of a pathologically sensitive person Edmund Burke remarked that Rousseau had no skin a person of enormous although unsuspected talents, who envies at the same time that he despises a highly sophisticated and polished society in which he has not been quite successful. It is the boy from Geneva not quite making good in Paris; the African from Tagaste, Augustine by name, not quite successful in Rome or Milan. And because Rousseau was one of the most eloquent writers who ever lived, his doctrines took on enormous political importance in the eighteenth-century movement of ideas. For he was dedicated, in brief, to the conviction that whatever is, is wrong.

As the years went by, Rousseau and Diderot quarreled in a spectacular fashion, and Diderot subsequently fell victim to the temptation of asserting that it was he who suggested the famous paradox to Rousseau. 47 For ex ample, he once told Marmontel at that time a very prominent man of letters, though his laurel leaves are now much withered that he had asked Rousseau which side of the question he proposed to take.

"The affirmative," said Rousseau.

1 "That s the fons asinorum," I said to him. "All the mediocre talents will take that path . . ."

1 "You re right," he said to me, after having reflected upon it for a moment, "and Til follow your advice." 4S

Exactly the same story is told by other contemporaries by La Harpe, by Colle, by Meister, and by the Abbe Morellet, who adds that this version was accepted as established by all Baron d Holbach s circle. 49 And Mme de Vandeul states quite flatly that my father gave to Rousseau the idea of his Discourse on the Arts.* 50 Rousseau, on the other hand, solemnly assured a friend that he had made his choice without Diderot and solely by himself. 51 Consequently, as might readily be expected, the question of whether Rous seau is to be denied any originality whatsoever has become a favorite battle ground for his partisans and his detractors, as well as a focal point for some skillful exercises in impartial scholarship. 52

In his writings, Diderot was much more cautious in his allegations about Rousseau and the prize essay. Twice he alluded to the incident, in passages one of which was published during his lifetime, the other posthumously. In each instance he stops short of declaring that he gave Rousseau the idea; he merely takes credit for knowing his Rousseau:


DIDEROT IN PRISON 115

When the program of the Academy o Dijon appeared, he came to con sult me on the side that he should take.

  • "The side you ll take," I said to him, "is the one no one else will."

"You re right," he replied/ 53

Although Diderot was now permitted to work on the Encyclopedic, his enforced residence at Vincennes was a handicap. As Du Chatelet had re marked, he was unable to get much done. The associated publishers, in sup port of what they called the finest and most useful enterprise yet undertaken by the book trade/ petitioned D Argenson on this subject:

the enterprise on which Your Highness has deigned to cast some favorable re gards cannot be finished so long as M. Diderot is at Vincennes. He is obliged to consult a considerable number of craftsmen, who do not like to be shifted about; to confer with a number of men of letters, who do not have the leisure to go to Vincennes; and finally, to have access constantly to the Royal Library, the books of which cannot and ought not to be carried so far away. Besides, My Lord, to supervise the drawings and engravings, one must have the workers tools before one s eyes, an essential which M. Diderot can make use of only on the spot, 64

Another and much more elaborate petition dated 7 September covered the same ground. 55

Perhaps the publishers would not have been so importunate had D Alem- bert filled in for the absent editor. But evidently he either could not or would not; the publishers declared that without Diderot it was impossible to instruct the printers how to set up mathematical material correctly. 55 From this it may be inferred that D Alembert did not concern himself with correcting proof, even on material he himself had written, and he seems to have taken great care not to contract any guilt by association. At least such would seem to be a reasonable interpretation to put upon his letter of 19 September to Formey, the secretary of the Berlin Academy : The detention of M. Diderot has become much less severe; nevertheless it still lasts, and the Encyclopedic is suspended. I never intended to have a hand in it except for what has to do with mathematics and physical astronomy. I am in a position to do only that, and besides I do not intend to condemn myself for ten years to the tedium of seven or eight folios/ 57

In a folder marked Diderot, constituting part of the archives of the Bastille that long ago were transferred to the Bibliotheque de 1* Arsenal at Paris, there is a little slip of paper addressed to the Marquis du Chatelet and written in the hand of Berryer. Dated 29 October 1749, it stated that the lettre de cachet ordering Diderot s release had been made out on 21


n6 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

October, and that Du Chatelet was to release Diderot as soon as he received Berryer s note. Another hand, not Berryer s, scratched out the date 29 October and inserted instead 3 9 bre> ; and indeed it was on 3 November that Diderot was released. 58

Now he was free to return to the Rue de TEstrapade and to the enormous backlog o work that had been accumulating since his arrest 102 days pre viously. What were the ideas, the conclusions, that this unwelcome interlude caused to revolve in his mind? Many, no doubt, and deep-seated, for the atrabilious moods of his solitary imprisonment seem to have darkened his thought for several years. Rousseau speaks in his Confessions of the melan choly that Diderot acquired during his confinement and asserts that it is apparent in Le Fils naturel, written seven years later, 59 But of one thought in Diderot s mind we may be sure. Many years later he proposed to Cath erine II of Russia that he edit, at her expense, a new and better Encyclopedic: one of the advantages would be to substitute the name of a great and worthy sovereign for that of a second-rate minister who deprived me of my liberty in order to wring from me a tribute to which he could not lay claim by merit/ 60


CHAPTER IO


The Prospectus of the Encyclopedic, and Letter on the Deaf and Dumb


T is more than likely that Diderot spent the last weeks of 1749 and the first months of 1750 in seeking to make up for lost time. As the publishers second petition to D Argenson had gone to great lengths to establish, Diderot was indispensable. 1 The preparation for publishing the Encyclopedic could not be carried on satis factorily without him. Their statement conveys to us a precise notion of how complex a job it was to be chief editor of the Encyclopedic, entailing as it did duties requiring not only the conventional blue-penciling and proof reading, but also a great deal of what is now called leg-work and tech nological know-how. 5 For over twenty years Diderot spent the greater part of his time and energy in just this sort of daily editorial work. His was a task demanding the combined qualities of the genius and the drudge.

In the year following his detention in Vincennes there continued to be reverberations of the publication of Letter on the Blind. Speaking to the quinquennial Assembly of the Clergy, the Archbishop of Sens denounced the current manifestations of irreligion, as a result of which that body re quested the Sorbonne to make a report on impious books, among them Philosophical Thoughts and Letter on the Blind? The fictitious deathbed conversation of Saunderson, invented by Diderot, called into being an equally fictitious one in reply. 3 Though the principal French periodicals, such as the Journal des Sfavans and the Journal de Trevoux, did not deign to notice a volume that was, after all, highly contraband, the Letter on the Blind received a flattering amount of attention in news letters and periodicals published outside the boundaries of France. This book/ wrote one editor, has caused too much stir not to devote an article to it here. 4 The stir was, indeed, so great that demand far outran supply. D Alembert, writing to a

117


IZ 8 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

friend in Switzerland who had asked for a copy, declared in February 1750 that it was very hard to procure one. 5

The year 1750 witnessed a number of important events in the private life of Diderot. Not least remarkable among them was a complaint against his wife lodged with the police on 2 April. This document is still in existence in the National Archives of France, a single quarto sheet rather hard to find as it lies unbound and higgledy-piggledy with scores of similar depositions in a cardboard box. 6 In this complaint the servant of one of Mme Diderot s neighbors testified that on that very afternoon Mme Diderot, after picking a quarrel, had kicked the servant several times and knocked her head violently against the wall. Nevertheless, the record bears no evidence that the authorities did more than simply file the deposition. Apparently Mme Diderot was not admonished or even interrogated. Yet the existence of this document may surely be cited as proof that Mme Diderot was indeed a formidable woman, and that there may have been some basis in fact for a report of a similar and equally violent incident involving Mme Diderot a year and a half later.

This story appeared in the news magazine La Bigarure, which, as has been noted, was printed at The Hague and had published the account of Diderot s improvising ink when he was in solitary confinement at Vincennes. Even previous to this, the anonymous editor of La Bigarure had shown him self to be well informed about Diderot, accurately attributing to him the authorship of his various unacknowledged works. 7 When, therefore, under date of 3 December 1751, La Bigarure gleefully chronicled a .fight between Mme Diderot and Mme de Puisieux, the account should not necessarily be regarded as a canard without any basis in fact. On balance, it seems to be testimony, however suspect and unconfirmed, that ought not to be totally disregarded. According to this account, which, incidentally, declared that Mme de Puisieux was frightfully ugly and Mme Diderot, although a second Xantippe, was as pretty as her rival is frightful, Mme de Puisieux one day insulted Mme Diderot in the street, calling out among other things, Here, Mistress She-monkey, look at these two children; they are your hus band s, who never did you the honor of doing as much for you. This provocation led to a very spirited brawl, which the anonymous author de scribes in some lines of very indifferent verse, as though he felt, as had Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton, that prose could not do justice to such a sublime situation. In conclusion we learn that cold water had to be poured upon the combatants in order to separate them, and that Diderot, mean while, stayed inside, afraid to show his face. 8 Whether or not the anecdote


THE PROSPECTUS, AND LETTER ON THE DEAF AND DUMB Up

was a fact, at least the publicity about it was, and Diderot probably had to face many people who had read the story.

If Mme de Puisieux actually made any such derisive remark about the lack of children in the Diderot household, she uttered a taunt the more cal- culatedly wounding because it was cruelly true. On 30 June 1750, little Frangois-Jacques-Denis, only shortly past his fourth birthday, had died of a violent fever and been buried the next day at the Diderot s parish church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. 9 Several months later a third child was born to the grieving parents and duly carried to Saint-Etienne for baptism. Laurent Durand, the book publisher, stood godfather for the new boy, Denis-Laurent. According to Mme de Vandeul, a careless woman allowed the infant to fall on the steps of the church on the day of his baptism. Whether this be true or not, certainly the baby did not live long, Mme Diderot herself recording that he died toward the end of the year. 10 Thus the Diderots had been parents three times, and were now childless. Nor was there to be an other baby until more than three years later.

It was probably also in 1750 that Diderot made the acquaintance of a man who was to be his closest and dearest friend the rest of his life. This was a young German named Friedrich Melchior Grimm, son of a Lutheran pastor at Regensburg. Grimm, following some years of study at the Univer sity of Leipzig, had come to Paris as the tutor-companion of a highly placed young German nobleman. 11 Rousseau had made Grimm s acquaintance in August of I749, 12 and found him an extremely attractive person, then twenty- six years of age Grimm was ten years younger than Diderot greatly in terested in music, and already endowed with that coolly ironical but accurate judgment of matters artistic that he was later to display to such advantage in his now famous news letter, the Correspondence litteraire.

In some ways Grimm was an adventurer, and certainly a careerist. His correspondence with the great furnishes rather elaborate proof that he knew which side his bread was buttered on. With all his elegance of manner, he could be ruthless, and through the years he could calmly exploit the time and energy of a friend like Diderot while constantly deploring that others desired to do so too. Because of this domineering manner with his friends, added to a reputed fondness for wearing face powder, Grimm s intimates called him The White Tyrant/ a punning reference to Tirant lo Blanch, the principal character of a Catalonian epic poem of the fifteenth century which had recently been translated into French. 13 Probably both particulars of the indictment were true. Certainly there is plenty of documentary evi dence about the face powder. Grimm s papers, sequestered during the


I20 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

French Revolution, are now in the National Archives, and there, among a vast collection of bills and receipts, may be found numerous ones from Dulac, Merchant Glover-Perfumer, at the Sign of the Golden Cradle, Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, billing Grimm for fine powder purged with spirits of wine and perfumed h la marcchdk! 14 In 1750 Grimm was far from being the successful and much-decorated man of affairs who impressed Ambas sador Thomas Jefferson as being the pleasantest and most conversable mem ber of the diplomatic corps/ 15 He had yet to establish himself: it was to be some decades before Catherine the Great would be calling him in her letters her gobe-mouche it was a joke between them her fag.

Rousseau, who brought Grimm and Diderot together their first meet ing was in Rousseau s rooms 16 was saddened to discover that each pres ently became fonder of the other than either was of him. Nevertheless, the year was not without its triumphs for Jean-Jacques, for on 9 July it was announced that his essay, which he had discussed with Diderot at Vincennes, had won the prize offered by the Academy of Dijon. 17 Diderot, with his usual generosity and his usual impetuousness arranged to see it through the press, but he gave the manuscript to the publisher instead of trying to make some money out of it for Rousseau. 18 In the last fortnight of November 1750, Rousseau s startling and paradoxical contention that the development of the arts and sciences had been noxious to mankind was ready for public perusal. 19 It s catching on like wildfire, wrote Diderot to Rousseau; there is no example of success like it. 20

While Diderot was seeing Rousseau s discourse through the press, he was also busy putting the finishing touches on the prospectus of the Encyclopedic. Much depended, in fame and fortune, upon presenting the proposed work in an attractive way. Several times in 1749 the publishers had alleged that they were on the point of launching the prospectus, but, probably because of Diderot s imprisonment, this was much delayed. According to an unpub lished document written in 1771 or 1772 by Joly de Fleury, the procureur general of France, Chancellor d Aguesseau had personally approved and initialed a copy of the prospectus, satisfying by this approbation the regula tions governing the previous submission of manuscript; and according to the same authority, the Lieutenant-General of Police had written on the prospectus, Permission for printing and posting, n November 1750. Signed Berryer. 21 On 21 November 1750, the publishers drew up an agreement upon the procedure for accepting subscriptions. 22 It seems quite certain, then, as is stated in the Encyclopedic itself, that the prospectus was first circulated in November I750. 23 Eight thousand copies of it were stitched


THE PROSPECTUS, AND LETTER ON THE DEAF AND DUMB 121

(and presumably disseminated). 24 Eight thousand copies! and they are now rarer than the whooping crane, almost as rare as the dodo. Indeed, the director of the French National Archives had considerable difficulty in 1950 in locating a copy. 25

The salient features of the prospectus have already been described in the prologue to this book. In one of the closing paragraphs of his address to the public, Diderot spoke with humbleness of the importance and significance of this venture, and then, in abrupt transition, he saluted the future in what was a sort of dedication

TO POSTERITY, AND TO THE BEING WHO DOES NOT DIE.


Along with the editing of the Encyclopedic and the preparation of the prospectus, Diderot found time in 1750 to put down his speculations in a new field of thought. This Lettre sur les sourds et muets & I usage de ceux qui entendent et qui f orient ( Letter on the Deaf and Dumb, for the Bene fit of Those Who Hear and Speak*) started out with some firsthand ob servations on the behavior of deaf-mutes and went on to canvass a number of interesting and original theories on linguistics and aesthetics. The work revealed an astonishing number of ingenious insights into the metaphysics of beauty and into the psychology of communication, discussing both gestures and word symbols. Just as a famous twentieth-century work entitled The Meaning of Meaning attempted to restate the problem of knowledge by means of a rigorous analysis of the functions of language, so Diderot in his century attempted to do the same thing, breaking new ground in the study of semantics and word symbolism. 26

This time, Vincennes having made him cautious, Diderot submitted his manuscript to the proper authorities. But although the censor passed the manuscript on 12 January 1751, there evidently was something about it that caused Malesherbes, the new director of publications, to feel that he could not authorize its publication with Diderot s name on the title page and with the accolade of Avec Approbation & Privilege du Roi! 27 Instead he gave it a tacit permission. This curious and very common practice con stitutes an excellent example of the sort of paradoxical and illogical pro cedure that the anomalies of the ancien regime brought into being. A tacit permission was an official connivance at an infringement of the regulations. 28 The practice was so general and so regularized that a register of most tacit permissions was kept on file by the syndics of the corporation of booksellers. Other tacit permissions, however, were accorded orally and without registra-


I22 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

tion, the author and printer merely being given private and non-documentary assurances that they might publish a particular manuscript without molesta tion from the police. In every case, however, the censors previously read the manuscripts in the usual way and the director of publications knew per fectly what was going on. Yet all these numerous books were printed anony mously, with misleading places of publication printed on their title pages, the point being that they should bear every mark of being illicit and clan destine in order to save the government from being officially embarrassed by any statements they might contain. The advantage to the monarchy of this practice was that it increased the employment of French printers and helped keep French money inside French boundaries. 29

Any work that received even tacit permission was not likely to contain incendiary doctrine against Church or State. In comparison with the Letter on the Blind, therefore, the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb may have seemed a little dull. Although the work had three editions in 1751 and another in 1772, and although Mme Necker, Diderot s friend and the famous wife of the famous statesman, thought it Diderot s best work she claimed that he wrote it in a single night, which seems incredible for a book of some seventeen thousand words 30 in general Diderot received less applause for it from his own generation than he does from the present one.

Diderot did not, however, compromise in this little book any of his con victions regarding psychology or metaphysics. He consistently assumed that knowledge is completely dependent upon the senses and that therefore a man s answers, even his views on metaphysical questions, will be relative to his senses and, indeed, to the number of them. A society made up of five persons, each having only one of the five senses, would be, in my opinion, an amusing one : each would have a view of the world relative to his own sensory equipment, each would treat all the others as being senseless. 31 Thus Diderot was striking at and undermining various absolutist modes of thought. He did not get into trouble because this time he avoided the expression of inflammatory sentiment that in his previous treatise he had put into the mouth of the dying Saunderson. Nevertheless the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb incorporated and carried forward the new psychology and the new methodology which was so corrosive to older and more absolutist ways of thinking. 32

In the course of the twentieth century the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb has come to be regarded more and more highly, not only as a document for establishing Diderot s extraordinary versatility and sensitivity but also as a book intrinsically valuable because of the light it throws on fundamental


THE PROSPECTUS, AND LETTER ON THE DEAF AND DUMB 123

problems of poetics. Professors Torrey and Fellows call it one of the out standing examples of literary criticism in the eighteenth century/ and con tinue: In this first essentially scientific study of the deaf and dumb, Diderot was interested in the art of communication by gesture and of the relationship between gesture and language. From the great actor who projects in gestures what he expresses in words, we are led to the deaf mute who, standing before a color-organ, at last surmises what music is like language, a means of communication. This was deduced from the fact that, often before as in conversation, he had watched people s faces and expressions while music was being played outside his world of silence. There follows a discussion of the theory that the painter is capable of portraying but a single moment within which the past and future should be suggested, whereas the poet is able to depict a succession of moments. The conclusion is drawn from this that some subjects are best described in one medium, some in the other. (The debt of Lessing s Laofyoon to Diderot need hardly be insisted upon.) [ 33 ] But, we are told, the poet should realize that he is dealing with words, and words have both meaning and sound. The superior poet will then paint in sounds what he is expressing in meaning. Furthermore, poetry is the interweaving of hieroglyphs, that is, a series of pictures representing ideas. In this sense, Diderot adds, all poetry is "emblematique" or symbolical, but only the poet of genius succeeds in saying the inexpressible. Thus the reader, who has almost forgotten that he started out by reading a brief essay on the deaf and dumb, finds he has arrived at an esthetic theory which leads directly to Baudelaire and the Symbolists by means of certain fundamental principles which, quite possibly, have not yet been fully explored. 34

Diderot s doctrine that the words the poet uses are fraught with elusive and magical overtones has caught the imagination of contemporary critics, especially since he referred to such words as hieroglyphs, thus calling par ticular attention to their symbolic nature. 35 This theory seems a little startling in contrast to the formal verse much of it exceedingly earth-bound that the age composed; and it is the enunciation of a doctrine such as this that makes Diderot seem so modern to the aestheticians and the creative experimenters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 86 It was partly because Diderot was so proficient a classicist that this theory occurred to him. For the examples he cites are taken not simply from Corneille, Racine, Voltaire, and Boileau, but from the Greek of Epictetus and the Latin of Cicero and the Italian of Tasso. Rhythms and the quantities and stresses of syllables, with their subtle and elusive intertwining of sense impression and meaning, fascinated him. Can we not, as a French critic has recently sug-


I24 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

gested, can we not hear Diderot in these passages, declaiming with that accompaniment of gesture that was habitual with him and of which he was so fond? 37 He analyzes, much as Ruskin analyzed a passage of Milton in Sesame and Lilies, some of the haunting passages from the Iliad and the Aeneid> from Ovid and from Lucretius. All this inevitably disappears in translation,* he wrote, even in the best. 38

Modern critics, speaking of the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb, are likely to concur with a scholar who recently spoke of Diderot s mind as being like one of those complicated modern rockets which startle by the unsus- pectedness and apparent inexhaustibility, as well as by the brilliance of their evolutions. 39 The same point was made by the Abbe Raynal at the time, but in a much less complimentary vein: M. Diderot speaks on this occasion of a thousand things, on metaphysics, poetry, eloquence, music, etc., which have only a very tenuous connection with the principal subject. This letter is not pleasing, but it is instructive. . . . Everything that comes from M. Diderot s pen is full of new viewpoints and of well-grounded metaphysics; but his works are never finished: they are sketches; I doubt whether his vivacity and his precipitation will ever permit him to finish anything.* 40 This is one of the earliest examples of what came to be in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a commonplace of criticism of the works of Diderot. The Letter on the Deaf and Dumb was by way of being a criticism, and by no means a gentle one, of a work published not long before that had sought to discover a single unifying principle of beauty applicable to all the fine arts. This book was the Abbe Charles Batteux s Les Beaux-Arts reduits a un mtme princife (1746), and Diderot, in his allusions to it, could be conceived to have gone considerably beyond the call of duty. 41 All these personalia are forgotten now, and only Diderot s interesting insights into the problems of aesthetics remain, but it need not be overlooked that Diderot had a taste for polemics and that his personality generated heat, causing both him and the people with whom he was in contact to glow, whether with a gratified sense of fellow feeling or with a consciousness of exasperated antagonism.

A few weeks later Diderot published what amounted to the second edition of the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb, with additions. His introductory re marks were dated 3 March 1751, and D Hemery noted in his journal for 20 May that the Additions to Serve as Clarification for some of the Passages in the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb was already published, with Males- herbes tacit permission. 42 Diderot says that these additions were written in reply to the comments and criticisms of a very intelligent young woman of


THE PROSPECTUS, AND LETTER ON THE DEAF AND DUMB 125

his acquaintance, Mile de La Chaux, whose pathetic love story he tells in one of his highly regarded short stories, Ceci n est pas un come (This Is No Yarn ) , 43 In the same edition was also printed Diderot s lengthy observations in rebuttal of criticisms his book had received in the April issue of the Journal de Trevoux**

Meanwhile, the publication of the prospectus had brought about a short but sharp passage at arms between Diderot and the Jesuit editors of that same periodical, the first skirmish in what was to become a bitter and pro tracted war. Diderot was a formidable antagonist, but so were his opponents. They were led by the chief editor, Father Berthier, an able person who car ried on the Journal de Trevoux, it was said, to the satisfaction of all, as much for his skill in digesting works as for his prudent moderation in criticisms and eulogies. . . . 46 He was certainly moderate in his eulogy of the prospectus : in his first number for 1751 he quite patently implied that the celebrated chart or scheme of human knowledge that the prospectus contained was nothing but a barefaced plagiarism of Bacon: The editors, MM. Diderot and d Alembert, make known with reference to this system that they have principally followed Chancellor Bacon, author of the book On the Dignity and Increase of the Sciences. And this is so true that we intend to fall in with their views, while giving pleasure to the public, by printing an extract that will compare the work of the Chancellor with the Prospectus of the Encyclopedic, especially in regard to the tree of human knowledge/ In this extract, which appeared in the next issue, the editors found that the system of this learned Englishman was followed point by point and word for word by our Authors. 46

At this juncture Diderot took fire, and not without cause. He had expressly stated in the prospectus his obligations to Lord Bacon, so that the imputa tions of the Journal de TrSvoux seemed all the more unfair, unnecessary, and aggressive. Perhaps the antagonism of the Journal de Trtvoux in this connection can be explained, as was propounded at the time, by the Jesuits previous expectations of being asked to take an important share in con tributing to the EncyclopSdie D Alembert later stated that their fury was caused by the refusal to confide to them the theological part of the Encyclo pedic 47 and their subsequent vexation at finding themselves ignored.

Diderot s response to this attack was in the form of a pamphlet containing, by way of sample, his forthcoming Encyclopedic article on Art, and also, more to the point, an open Letter from M. Diderot to the Reverend Father Berthier, Jesuit.** This was a vigorous exercise in polemics, but contained nothing of interest beyond the dispute itself, although the contemporary


I2 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

journalist Clement spoke of it as being full of fire, wit, and charm/ 49 The Journal de Trevoux in turn replied, Diderot is a man o intelligence, and there is pleasure in receiving his letters when they concern literature. Other matters are too dangerous, he knows very well/ This exordium, sounding very ominous and menacing, was followed by a sneer: Several of these gentlemen of the Encyclopedic are known to us; we hold them in high esteem; they have competence, politeness, morals, and religion. M. Diderot has given a singular proof of his modesty by not naming them after him in the frontispiece of the Prospectus. Their names would have shed a great luster upon his. 50

The Second Letter of M. Diderot to the Reverend Father Berthier was written at nine o clock in the evening of 2 February 1751, when Diderot was still red-hot from having just read the offensive article in the Journal de Trevoux. 51 D Hemery, when noting in his journal that Malesherbes had granted permission to publish this reply, described it as a very judicious work. 52 This may be so; but its arguments were simply ad hominem, and there is nothing in the letter that has survived in interest the storm and stress of the occasion that produced it.

It is a matter of doubt whether Diderot was wise to engage in such a dispute. Evidently the publishers of the Encyclopedic had misgivings on this point, for Diderot mentions in an undated letter that clearly seems to refer to this time and probably to this incident that Messieurs the associates . . . were not in favor of printing it. 53 But whether wise or not, the exchange of salvos served to engage the public interest, as was evidenced by the publica tion of a number of pamphlets, all of them now very rare, regarding the dispute. One of these, a four-page Lettre a M. * * *, de la Societe Royale de Londres, was thought by D Hemery to emanate from Diderot s circle or even to have been written by Diderot himself. 54 While appearing to blame Diderot, it awarded him all the honors of the combat: M. Diderot, who is known to be a man of genius, gifted with a very brilliant imagination, and who enjoys a merited reputation, has had the weakness to write to Father Berthier with a vivacity which even his greatest partisans have disapproved of. His letter is in truth full of ingenious sallies, its style is firm and con cise, but one might almost say that each sentence is a poignard wrapped up in a bolt of lightning. Poor Father Berthier!

A Jesuit whom Diderot greatly admired evidently wrote to him at this juncture, endeavoring to moderate the dispute. This was Father Castel, a benign and ingenious person who is remembered as the inventor of a color- organ, a harpsichord-like instrument the intent of which was to suggest


THE PROSPECTUS, AND LETTER ON THE DEAF AND DUMB 127

sensations of melody and harmony by combining multi-colored ribbons rather than sounds. Diderot frequently mentions this machine for example, in Les Bijoux indiscrets, in the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb, and in the Encyclopedic as creating what he calls ocular music or sonatas in color. 55 Father Castel s color-organ was of scientific interest because, as Diderot himself realized, it raised a number of interesting and complicated psycho logical problems, in particular the phenomenon of inter-sensory association now called by the name of synesthesia. 56 Father CastePs organ was, indeed, one of the most philosophical inventions of the eighteenth century.

Diderot received Father Castel s letter with great respect, although it did not modify his sense of grievance. But in the name of God, reverend Father, he replied, what is Father Berthier thinking about to persecute an honest man who has no enemies in society other than those he has made for himself by his attachment to the Society of Jesus and who, displeased as he ought to be, has nevertheless just refused with utter contempt the weapons he has been offered against it? This virtuous feeling arose from the fact that just after the publication of his second letter to Berthier, Diderot had received a note proffering information and money if he would use them against the Jesuits. 57 It is clear that Diderot s letters to Berthier caused something of a sensation, for although the Jesuits were used to being opposed by Jansenists, this was one of the very first occasions when their position was openly chal lenged by a philosophe.^

Spring of this year brought a scholarly and academic honor to Diderot, and one of which he could make very profitable display. The Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences and Belles-Lettres made him a member, just in time to allow him to mention it on the tide page of Volume I of the Encyclopedic. Diderot s letter of thanks to Formey, the secretary, was dated 5 March 1751. 59 It was Diderot s first academy and, even in a century pullulating with academies of various kinds, almost his last. It is preposterous, but still true, that the man with one of the most seminal minds of the century should have gained admittance to no more academies than the Prussian, two Russian ones, and the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland. It was not because he spurned invitations, for the evidence is pretty clear that he joined every academy or learned society that ever asked him. The fact was that Diderot s thought was too radical and came too close to being openly atheistic to qualify him for membership in the most respectable and sedate circles. It might be supposed that the Royal Society of London, not being so committed to an official orthodoxy as were the French academies, might have extended him a bid, especially since they invited not only D Alembert but also the inde-


I2 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

fatigable and rather limited Encyclopedist, the Chevalier de Jaucourt. But apparently, as D Hemery noted in his journal in 1753, the Royal Society resented Diderot s insinuation in his Letter on the Blind that one of their former members, the blind Saunderson, had died an atheist resented it to the point of blackballing him permanently. 60

Even the membership in the Prussian Academy was evidently something of a quid pro quo. Beginning in 1742, Formey had been collecting materials for an encyclopedic compilation, and these he offered to the editors of the Encyclopedic after the prospectus of 1745 had appeared. 61 The account book of the publishers shows that in 1747 they contributed three hundred livres toward the acquisition of these manuscripts and promised to send Formey a set of the Encyclopedic free of charge and to name him in the preface. 62 Diderot acknowledged these manuscripts very handsomely in his prospectus but without mentioning that they had been paid for, and one can only put two and two together when three months later he was made one of Formey s academy colleagues.

Public anticipation of the appearance of Volume I was increasing, whetted not only by the controversy with the Journal de Trevoux, but also by the sample article on Art which Diderot published. 63 c lt will be the best dic tionary of things that there has been up to now, wrote the anonymous author of the Lettrc & M. * * *, de la Societe royale de Londres. The prodigious multiplicity of its contents, its extensiveness, and the advantage of a large number of plates showing the work of various artisans, cannot but make it useful, interesting, and curious. 64 No less a person than Buffon, writing in December 1750, had said that the authors had shown him several articles and that the work was going to be good; and again in April, he remarked of Volume I, 1 have gone through it; it is a very good work. 65 The official censor, writing on 24 June, gave it a very resounding compliment indeed: By order of My Lord the Chancellor I have read in the first volume of the Encyclopedical Dictionary the articles concerning medicine, physics, surgery, chemistry,, pharmacology, anatomy, natural history, and in general every thing that does not appertain to theology, jurisprudence, or history.

The various subjects have appeared to me to be well treated therein, conformable to the arrangement, extensiveness, and clarity that they de mand: and I am of the opinion that the editors of this great work are be ginning to carry out in a very satisfactory manner the vast plan that they sketched in the prospectus which the public received so warmly. I found nothing in this first volume that does not merit being printed/ 06

As the reputation of the Encyclopedic grew, so did the list of subscribers,


THE PROSPECTUS, AND LETTER ON THE DEAF AND DUMB 129

which stood at 1,002 in April of 1751 and 1,431 in July. 67 Meanwhile, on 28 June 1751, the much-heralded volume was published. 68 Its title page, simple as eighteenth-century titles go, ran as follows:

ENCYCLOPEDIE

or

ANALYTICAL DICTIONARY OF THE SCIENCES, ARTS AND CRAFTS,

By a Society of Men of Letters.

Placed in order and published by M. Diderot, of the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences and Belles-Lettres; and, for the mathematical portion, by M. d Alembert, of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, of that of Prussia, and of the Royal Society of London.

PARIS

Published by Briasson, the elder David, Le Breton, and Durand

MDCCLI With Approbation and License of the King.


CHAPTER II


What Readers Found in Volume I of the. Encyclopedic


THE public that greeted the first volume of the Encyclopedic was neither impartial nor indifferent.

Readers were in a mood to be particularly responsive to or particularly repelled by what they found therein. And what they found was a book that purported to be a book of reference but was in fact a sort of political tract. It was a work which, in the course of imparting information, helped to transform men s values. It was a work which helped to make men favorable to change. Historians are agreed that the Encyclopedic played an extremely important part as one of the disposing causes of the French Revolution. It was, in short, a publication with a profound political impact.

The Encyclopedic was like a great modern newspaper with a strongly defined editorial policy, one which is not always acknowledged but which, far from being confined to its editorial page, creeps into its reporting and even into its special features and comic strips. There was a great deal of skillful editorializing in the columns of the Encyclopedic. To use a term with un pleasant connotations, we must fairly admit that the authors of the Ency clopedic were propagandists. Yet in their behalf it can also be said that they were propagandists not in the too frequent sense of sophists industriously and knowingly attempting to make the worse seem the better cause, but in the more gracious sense of propagandists who recognize no higher authority than truth, who are convinced that they are in search of it, and who prop agandize for what they are certain will enlighten and profit mankind. And because the Encyclopedic was pre-eminent in its field, its effectiveness as an instrument of propaganda was all the greater. Its audience was almost a captive one: the wariest and most sophisticated of its readers, as well as the most gullible and ingenuous, found it indispensable.


130


WHAT READERS FOUND IN VOLUME I OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 13!

Not only was the Encyclopedic a work that hoped to persuade its readers to a certain point of view, but also a publication that, because of the conditions of censorship, had to pick its way with extraordinary care whenever it alluded to matters involving politics or theology. Any criticism of existing conditions had to be exceedingly oblique and indirect, for this was a publishing venture completely dependent upon official authorization. How else arrange for a subscription list, without which the enormous work would be financially too precarious? How else carry through successfully all the editorial complexities of so large an undertaking? Accordingly the sophisticated soon realized that it was necessary not only to read the lines of the Encyclopedic but also be tween them. The public soon learned to identify, whether with alarm or delight, the manifold contrivances of editorial guile. The Encyclopedic fasci nated, quite as much because of what did not meet the eye as because of the new features and devices that did.

After the flowery dedication to D Argenson which so bruised the spirit of Diderot, Volume I was introduced by a lengthy Preliminary Discourse 1 which set the tone for the ensuing work. This essay has been much admired by contemporaries and posterity alike, one modern editor placing it on a level with Descartes Discourse on Method in scientific merit, and surpassing it in literary. 1 This much-praised piece was written by D Alembert, not Diderot. Why is not known, unless perhaps it was on the theory that so conspicuous a part should be written by an editor who had not spent time in prison.

The Treliminary Discourse 1 was moving and persuasive because it con veyed and communicated the editors spacious faith. It is patently a docu ment written by a man who wishes well for mankind. And the conviction it imparts is not so much to use one of Diderot s phrases an eloquence that one hears as a persuasion one breathes in. From its lines shines the faith that knowledge will make men better, will make them more the masters of themselves as well as of their environment, will give them light. And there is pride in these pages, too the pride that comes from feeling that the Encyclopedic will help to make this knowledge secure. May the Encyclopedic become a sanctuary where men s knowledge may be pro tected from revolutions and from time. 2

The Treliminary Discourse is at once an exercise in epistemology and an intellectual history, albeit a somewhat episodic one, of Europe since the beginning of the Renaissance, done in the light of philosophy with the technical rigor of a mind profoundly mathematical. 3 In the epistemological part, D Alembert inquires whence human beings derive their ideas and


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


answers this fundamental question as Locke had: All our direct knowledge is reduced to that which we receive by way of our senses; from which it follows that it is to our sensations that we owe all our ideas. 4 The original statement of the dictum that nothing exists in the mind that has not been first in the senses (Nihil est in intellect* quod non fuerit in sensu) appears in Aristotle and had been quite readily accepted by the medieval scholastic philosophers. In the eighteenth century, however, the expression of this psychological concept, while not precisely heterodox, almost invariably made the devout exceedingly nervous, for it came close to denying the sovereign quiddity of the soul. The Lockean view proclaimed that human beings are not born with innate ideas of religion and morality, but simply derive them from their experience. Moreover, the Lockean psychology could be interpreted as coming very close to materialism, very close to the idea that sense impressions exist, that neurological impulses exist, but that the soul as an independent entity does not. Anybody who, like Diderot in his Letter on the Blind and now D Alembert in the Preliminary Discourse, 5 emphasized the role of the senses in cognition could expect to earn the praise of people seeking positive knowledge without conventional metaphysical integuments, but at the same time to win the distrust or censure of persons who felt that this view had in it something inherently irreverent and dangerous.

After his analysis of the bases of psychological knowledge, D Alembert lengthily discussed the various branches of learning, linking them together and grouping them under the three general components of the understand ing, namely, memory, reason, and imagination. This was a scheme which he, like Jefferson in classifying his library, borrowed from Bacon. This part of the discourse corresponds to a visual scheme of human knowledge that was folded into Volume I following the Preliminary Discourse. 5 In this elaborate Systime figure des connoissances humaines, a diagrammatic depiction that aroused much admiration at the time, the editors arranged the various subjects in parallel columns. They gave the generic name of History to all the branches of knowledge in the column allocated to the memory; of Philosophy to all that they deemed to be principally dependent upon the reason; and of Toetry to those dependent upon the imagination. Such a visual presentation of the relationships existing among the various branches of knowledge was plausible, and yet it betrays many of the prejudices and predilections of its contrivers. It is enlightening to notice how the editors have placed in visual and organic relationship two of the master words, the dynamic symbols of the age, Philosophy and Reason, each enhancing the prestige of the other. In contrast, History is relegated to a very secondary


WHAT READERS FOUND IN VOLUME I OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 133

position. It emanates from mere memory. This refusal to allow history to partake of the honors of philosophy or to consider itself as stemming from reason is one of the intellectual idiosyncrasies of the Encyclopedist school.

It was typical of the whole point of view of the Encyclopedic, and quite representative of the intentions of Diderot, that theology and religion were slyly relegated to a small, almost infinitesimal, area in comparison with the eye-filling space taken up by the subjects of positive knowledge. Divine Science bulked just about as large spatially as The Manufacture and Uses of Iron. Such were the Encyclopedias unacknowledged ways of waging psychological warfare: for this was not the fashion in which the relative significance of things was understood by the faculty of theology of the University of Paris.

In the second half of his Preliminary Discourse, D Alembert briefly but masterfully indicated the contributions to knowledge made by many of the great names : principally Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Locke, and Leibniz. This was brilliantly done, and D Alembert was highly complimented on his effort by such great persons as Buffon and Montesquieu, while Raynal wrote to his subscribers that 1 believe it to be one of the most philosophical, logical, luminous, exact, compact, and best written pieces that we have in our language. 5

Not that the Preliminary Discourse was without its blind spot. It is worthy of remark that D Alembert dates the history that he thinks really matters as beginning practically with the Renaissance. The reason for this was plain: both he and Diderot regarded medieval times as hopelessly obscurantist and priest-ridden, and the best thing that could be said of their own century, they thought, was that it resembled the Middle Ages so little. It was exceptionally difficult for men of the French Enlightenment to feel that medieval history had had any real significance save of a negative and deplorable sort. To them the history of the Middle Ages seemed an interruption instead of a continuum, and because of this belief, they never developed a philosophy of historical continuity or an attitude of historical- mindedness, relying upon knowledge of the past to illuminate the future, as did the nineteenth century. 6 Contrast for a moment their habit of mind with that of Edmund Burke, whose feeling for history was so profound that he declared that society is indeed a contract, binding the present genera tion to the ones that are dead. The Encyclopedists were apt to feel, as J. B. Bury remarked, a sort of resentment against history. 7 And because eighteenth- century men wanted their own age to be an Age of Reason, they had little praise for an Age of Faith. This astigmatism was common to a large part


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS I 34

of the Enlightenment, which felt none of the filial devotion of a Henry Adams yearning for Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres

As to the Preliminary Discourse as a whole, it i. fair to say that though D Alembert wrote it, Diderot heartily agreed with it. And if we should ask how the Preliminary Discourse would have Offered _had Diderot written it, the correct answer would be very little, save that Diderot : wodd probably have based his argumentation more on biological modes of thought, whereas D Alembert used the mathematical.

The Encyclopedic was novel in that it was a co-operative work written by several hands, and more unusual still in that it identified its contributors. According to the Preliminary Discourse, articles marked with an asterisk were written or revised by Diderot in his capacity as editor; but unsigned articles without any identifying mark were also written by him; other articles were initialed according to a scheme of symbols published in the prefatory pages. The final pages of the Preliminary Discourse were taken up with identifying and thanking the contributors.

As a reader turned to the body of the work, his first impression might have been of surprise that the Encyclopedic was organized alphabetically. It might have been supposed that, having dilated so much upon his chart of human knowledge, Diderot would have organized his presentation according to this system rather than according to the alphabet. Evidently the editors were uneasily self-conscious about this point, for they discuss at length why they did what they did, the reasons appearing to be in part solid and in trinsic, in part (like Mr. Guppy s) owing to circumstances beyond their control 8 The Encyclopedic was criticized now and again for its arrangement, yet subsequent experience seems to have proved that the alphabetical presen tation in reference books, although less logical, is also less confusing.

The Encyclopedic endeavored to compensate for this lack of the systematic by freely using cross references to indicate close and organic connections. Chambers had done this and it has become, of course, a commonplace in the construction of reference works; but for the Encyclopedic the apparatus of cross references served a further purpose. It slyly suggested points of view that, because of censorship, could not be openly canvassed.

Twentieth-century commentators naturally dwell on the most important usually the lengthiest, articles that the Encyclopedic contains. To the casual contemporary reader, however, the work might have seemed most impres sive because of the multiplicity of its brief entries; there were hterally thou sands This is explained by the fact that the Encyclopedic, although it con tained no maps, attempted to be a gazetteer. Moreover, it also served as a


WHAT READERS FOUND IN VOLUME I OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 135

dictionary, defining numerous words, some of them very common ones, and often giving elaborate examples of synonyms. The study of synonyms had become popular in France since the publication o a book of them by an Abbe Girard in 1718. The Ency dope die frequently copied Girard, usually with acknowledgments, and often printed synonyms and illustrations of its own. Diderot was proficient in this department, as when, to give a very Gallic example, he distinguished between the figurative meanings of to bind and to attach* by adding to the Girard examples : One is bound to one s wife, and attached to one s mistress/ X1

The Encydopedie also contained, besides these definitions and synonyms, a large number of highly regarded articles about grammar, some of them very lengthy, and most of them done by an amiable old freethinker named Dumarsais. We believe ourselves able to say/ Diderot had written in the prospectus, that no known work will be as rich or as instructive as ours concerning the rules and usage of the French language, or, indeed, on the nature, origin, and philosophy of languages in general/ Moreover, the editors of the Encydopedie were extremely aware of what is now called the problem of semantics: How many questions and vexations would one spare oneself if one were finally to determine the meaning of words in a clear and precise manner/ wrote D Alembert in his Preliminary Discourse/ thus capping his earlier remark that we owe many errors, as some philosophers have noticed, to the abuse of words. . . / 12

A modern reader interested in biographical information finds the Ency dopedie lacks an alphabetical listing of personages. Volumes following the second occasionally include some biographical information, but, oddly enough, listed under the name of the city in which the person was born. As much as the Encydopedie was admired, it was distinctly deficient in articles of biography and systematic history. Their inclusion would have greatly increased its size, and the editors therefore referred their readers, not very satisfactorily, to a current historical and biographical dictionary, Moreri s Grand dictionnaire historique, first published in 1674 and followed by a number of editions and supplements. 13

In other respects the Encyclopedic had very adequate coverage, with ample articles on the inescapable subjects of theology, philosophy, and belles-lettres. It made its special reputation, however, on both scientific articles and those describing the technology of the arts and crafts. In the first volume were found lengthy articles by Diderot on Steel (Acier), Agriculture/ 14 Silver* (Argent), Needle (Aiguille), and Accouchement/ as well as important articles by him on more conventional subjects, such as analyses of the


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


philosophy of the Arabs, the Hindus, and of Aristotelianism. Other con tributors wrote important articles on such topics as Bee (Abeille), Anatomy (twenty-eight pages where Chambers had had only one column), Trees (Arbre), Attraction, Alsace (mainly about the mines in that region), At mosphere/ Slate (Ardoise), Magnet (Aimant), Alkali/ etc. These sub jects were described with an attention to technical and technological detail that was always one of the most conspicuous features of the Encyclopedic, a feature that made it representative of a new social class and of a new outlook on man. This attention to up-to-date technology is admirably dis played, for example, in Diderot s own article on Boring Machine (Attsoir). What he was describing, with information as to how it could be constructed, was a machine for making cannon from solid castings. An anecdote, in cidentally revealing the wide distribution of the Encyclopedic, will show how useful this sort of information could be. About 1773 ^ e Ottoman Sultan commissioned a soldier of fortune, the Baron de Tott, to build up the Turkish artillery and arm the forts on the Dardanelles. Tott had to manufacture the cannon he needed, without having had previous experi ence in the work. A Greek, very expert in the Art of constructing Mills/ Tott wrote in his Memoirs, was, however, of much service to me in making my boring Machine. The Memoirs of Saint Remi and the Encyclopedic were my constant guides and I wanted no other till I came to make the

Moulds ____ 15

In short, the Encyclopedic was practical It was useful. And since it con tained much information unobtainable elsewhere, it was indispensable. The Chevalier de Jaucourt pointed out these characteristics when he wrote of the Art of Heraldry in an Encyclopedic volume published in 1765: There does not exist a single pamphlet on the art of making shirts, stockings, shoes, bread; the Encyclopedic is the first and unique work describing these arts useful to men, while the book trade is inundated with books on the vain and ridiculous science of armorial bearings. ie

Diderot s interest in technology, in the crafts, and in the mechanical arts is very typical of him. There was nothing factitious about this interest in the practical On the contrary, it sprang directly from his social origins, from the microcosm of the tanners and the cutlers of Langres, from the pride in workmanship and the canniness in money matters of the self-respecting craftsman who begot him. Diderot always respected craftsmanship, and although he sometimes spoke disdainfully or despairingly of the people and employed the word in much the sense that we now give to the masses/ he never spoke disparagingly of the artisan or his social usefulness. It was


WHAT HEADERS FOUND IN VOLUME I OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 137

this attitude, faithfully reflected in a thousand places in the Encyclopedic, that made the work so revolutionary. New values were here being set forth and admired, the dignity of just plain work was being extolled. Upon examining the products of the arts/ wrote Diderot in his Art article, one has observed that some were more the work of the mind than of the hand, and that others, on the contrary, were more the work of the hand than of the mind. Such is in part the origin of the pre-eminence accorded to some arts over others, and of the classification of the arts into liberal arts and mechanical arts. This distinction, though well grounded, has had the unfortunate effect of degrading people who are very estimable and very useful, and of strengthening in us a certain sort of natural laziness which already was inclining us only too much to believe that to devote a constant and continuous attention to experiments and to individual, palpable, and material objects was to detract from the dignity of the human mind, and that to practice or even to study the mechnical arts was to lower oneself to things that are laborious to study, ignoble to meditate upon, difficult to expound, dishonoring to trade in, inexhaustible in number, and in value trifling. A prejudice tending to fill the cities with prideful praters and useless contemplators, and the countryside with petty tyrants, ignorant, idle, and disdainful. Twas not thus that Bacon thought, one of England s foremost geniuses; nor Colbert, one of France s greatest ministers; nor, indeed, the just minds and the wise men of any era. . . . How bizarre are our judg ments! We demand that people should be usefully engaged, and we disdain useful men/ 17 These views are of great interest in themselves. Moreover, Diderot attached extraordinary importance to them, a fact proved by his publication of this article in advance, as a sample of the whole encyclopedia. It is evident that he intended to fix public attention upon this aspect of the new work.

In congruence with its interest in the crafts and technology, the Ency clopedic manifested an equal interest in the problem of dignifying or creating an adequate and accurate vocabulary for them; . . . a science or an art commences to be a science or an art only when acquired knowledge gives rise to making a language for it/ wrote the author of the article Anatomy/ 18 Diderot himself had referred in his prospectus to the importance of nomen clature and returned to the subject, discussing it at some length in his article on Art/ In the opinion of the principal historian of the French language, the Encyclopedias interest in accurate and sufficient nomenclature is one of its most valuable characteristics. The Encyclopedic nonetheless remains the first and chief homage of the eighteenth century to the language of artisans


j-g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

... a powerful effort not only to disseminate the knowledge of the arts and sciences but also to rehabilitate technical terms. 19

It would not have taken long for a reader of the first volume to discover that the Encyclopédie was interested in more than simply warming over old themes, reviving or inventing technical terms, or presenting subjects never before allotted space in a work of this kind. More than these, the Encyclopédie was interested in the scientific method. Indeed, it became an arsenal in which the weapons of critical thought were kept polished, whetted, and instantly at hand. Perhaps the greatest function of the work in the estimation of its editors was that of making people more aware of the methodological problems that constantly beset the acquisition of knowledge and the pursuit of truth.

Obviously this was a campaign that had to be conducted on many fronts.

One of them was the attack on words or names that in reality were devoid of meaning. Diderot's technique was to call attention to names, especially of plants and animals, about which little more was known than simply the empty name itself. For example, he wrote about 'Aguaxima': 'A plant of Brazil and of the islands of southern America. That is all that we are told of it; and I would willingly inquire for whom such descriptions are made. It cannot be for the natives, who very likely know more characteristics of the aguaxima than this description includes, and who have no need of being told that the aguaxima grows in their country; it is as if one said to a Frenchman that the pear tree is a tree that grows in France, in Germany, etc. Nor can it be for us; for what does it matter to us whether there be in Brazil a tree named aguaxima, if we know only its name? What purpose does the name serve? It leaves the ignorant in the condition they were; it teaches others nothing. If it happens, then, that I mention this plant, and several others equally poorly described, it is out of condescension for certain readers who prefer to find nothing in a dictionary article, or even to find nothing but silliness in it, than not to find the article at all. [20] Similarly, of the word 'Aguapa': A tree that grows in the West Indies, the shadow of which is said to cause the death of those who sleep in it naked, while it causes all others to swell up in a prodigious fashion. If the natives of these countries do not know it better than it is identified for us by this description, they are in great danger.' [21] And in discussing the word 'Acalipse' he remarked, Here is another one of these beings ... of which one has only the name; as if one did not already have too many names empty of sense in the sciences, arts, etc. [22]

Comments such as these would seem absurdly out of place in a present-day work of reference. But the seekers after positive knowledge who edited the Encyclopedie had a useful purpose in mind. Not only did they intend to make their readers more critical and sophisticated in the nomenclature of plants and animals, they also aimed, although somewhat furtively and indirectly, at various high-sounding metaphysical and religious abstractions. No doubt the et cetera that concluded the preceding quotation referred to these, thus putting a cutting edge on what is usually a dulled and lazy abbreviation. True philosophy, wrote the author of the article To Act (Agir), would find itself considerably briefer if all philosophers would be willing, like me, to abstain from speaking of what is manifestly incomprehensible. 23

Another methodological front upon which the Encyclopedic conducted a campaign was that of the credibility of various kinds of evidence. Obviously this tactic was primarily to unsettle convictions concerning miracles and the truthfulness of Genesis, but it had a broader purpose, one applicable to all aspects of thought and not simply the religious and the theological The skepticism of the Encyclopedic exercised itself overtly and entertainingly on old wives tales and vulgar errors, with the charm of seeming to take the reader into partnership. But the very same methods that were used to expose ignorance and superstition and sham in regard to pagan gods, ancient oracles, and nonexistent animals and plants Agnus Scythicus, for example were also the ones that, by implication, led straight to the attack upon more portentous obscurantisms.

Of course the Encyclopedic had had predecessors in preaching the virtues of skepticism. The most important among them was Pierre Bayle (1647- 1706), one of the great names in the history of free intellectual inquiry. Bayle was a French Huguenot refugee of awesome erudition, especially in the fields of theology, mythology, ancient history, and ancient geography, as well as the history of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In 1697 he published his Dictionnaire historique et critique, a work which demonstrated the use to which crafty cross references could be put and a work, too, which bristled with such scholarship that it contains footnotes on footnotes. Bayle was a believer, though a critical one; and his skepticism, combined with his erudition, gave him the sort of dazzling intellectual authority over young people impatient of cant that H. L. Mencken enjoyed in the 1920 $ in America. But it was not an influence that could be safely acknowledged, especially if one happened to live in France. Bayle, then, should be remembered as perhaps the greatest exemplar and inspiration of the critical methodology preached by the Encyclopedic. If his influence was more negative than positive, if he showed none of Diderot s interest in


I40 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

the crafts and technology and other practical matters, still his work is incontestably the real ancestor of the Encyclopedic, from the point of view of ideas as well as form, and it has been well said that he cleared the ground for the steam-roller of the Encyclopedists. 24 It is almost literally true that his was the great unmentioned and unmentionable name of the Encyclopedic?*

Bayle s skepticism was far from nihilistic. Quite to the contrary, it was of a fruitful sort, dedicated to the search for truth. Bayle, like his successors in the eighteenth century, thought of skepticism as a kind of detergent, the use of which would reveal truth. This was precisely Diderot s point of view. As early as the Pensees philosophiques he had declared that skepticism is therefore the first step toward truth, and his daughter says that the last words she heard him say it was the evening before he died were: The first step toward philosophy is unbelief. 26 This was the spirit in which the Encyclopedic was written. Its respect for truth, combined with a far-reaching skepticism about what conventionally passed for it, was one of the most exciting features of the new work.

Equally exciting, especially in the articles written by Diderot, was a cer tain quality of self-revelation, an air of making the reader a confidant and sharing with him literary and scientific judgments, an air both attractive and piquant which gave a suspenseful sense of the unexpected. These un conventional qualities stirred the wrath of the bigoted, the scorn of the pedantic, and the interest of the unprejudiced. The reader of the first volume might notice in the frequent articles devoted to cooking inferential evidence that Diderot was fond of the pleasures of the table. 27 There, too, he dis played his familiarity with the cutler s craft by writing a considerable article (Affiler) on the art of whetting knives and bringing lancets to a fine edge. 28 It was like Diderot to describe three or four methods for catching fish-worms (Achees), to use his columns for paying compliments to Reaumur and Frederick the Great, or to include rhetorical bits though quite repre sentative of his considered views like those in the article on Alecto, whose name corresponds to that of Envy. . . . what envious person would not be horrified at himself when he hears it said that Envy is one of the three Furies, and that she is the daughter of Hell and of Night . . . what could be likely to make virtue more attractive and vice odious . . . ? 29 Such editorial policies generated some of the curiosity excited by a modern syndicated column. It cannot be denied that part of the interest inspired by the work arose from a desire to see what the authors would say next. The Encyclopedic was edited with a flair for showmanship.


READERS FOUND IN VOLUME I OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 14!

It was also inspired by an eagerness for improvement and a passion for amelioration. About the last thing that could be said about the Encyclopedic was that it was content with things as they were. In the largest sense, it had a. revolutionary attitude. But the expression of this desire for improvement was not limited to cautious verbalizations about religion and matters of state: it shone forth in the desire for all sorts of betterments and changes; in suggestions, for example, for reforming the alphabet as well as the orthog raphy of the French language, or these happen to be suggestions in articles written by Diderot himself for more effective methods of agriculture, for better techniques of making steel, for the abolition of monopolies, and for closer supervision of midwives. 30 This sense of immersion in the circum stances of real life not unnaturally constituted for readers of the Encyclopedic one of its principal sources of interest. A sample of what Diderot wrote about monopolies in the very interesting article on the manufacture of needles is representative:

. . . but it seems to me that there is only one contingency as a result of which ex clusive privileges may be accorded without injustice. This is when they are asked for by the inventor of a useful article. ... to accord to a company the exclusive privilege of making a product that many people are able to manufacture is tanta mount to willing that this product, instead of being perfected, should continuously become worse and always be sold more dear. 31

And under the heading of Accoucheuse, Diderot called attention to cur rent abuses practiced by midwives who gave instruction in their profession. . . . I saw there examples of inhumanity [which he described] that would be almost unbelievable had they occurred among barbarians. . . . There fore I invite those who are charged with taking care of the disorders that occur in society to keep their eyes on this one. 5 32

Remarks like these, well-intentioned though they were, were apt to be regarded as coming close to trenching upon the arcana of authority in gen eral and the prerogative of the police power in particular. Diderot was of a temperament that could scarcely refrain from telling the political and re ligious authorities what their policies ought to be, nor could he have avoided, even had he desired, treating in some aspect or other of the Encyclopedic these two subjects that were the riskiest and touchiest of all In the France of the eighteenth century, Church and State did not regard themselves as answerable in any way to the criticism of private persons, nor were they likely to consider the public discussion of public matters as even permissible.


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


Since the police power was of course all on their side, persons who felt inspired to say something on religion or government had to take either devious indirections or serious risks. Diderot took both.

It might be supposed that somewhere in the Encyclopedic would be found a plea for freedom in the expression of thought. And so there was, in an article written by Diderot about an obscure Roman divinity, Aius Locutius, the god of speech. In this unobtrusive corner Diderot wrote eloquently in favor of freedom of thought. But the caution that he had to exercise in daring to canvass such a view is demonstrated by the curious limitation that he voluntarily proposed. Let criticisms of the Church and the government be published in a learned language only. If they should happen to be trans lated into the vernacular, arrest and punish the translator. Thus freedom of thought could be reconciled with the respect due to a people s faith and to the national cult. 33 To a twentieth-century reader this proposal seems shockingly undemocratic and illiberal, but to the eighteenth century, as many criticisms of the Encyclopedic show, it seemed shockingly radical.

In his article on Political Authority/ Diderot stated his opinions very plainly, thereby incurring so much criticism and coming, it is said, so close to having the work s license taken away, that for some time thereafter he refrained from expressing himself quite so unambiguously. This article did indeed sound like one by John Locke or Thomas Jefferson. No man/ he wrote, has received from nature the right of commanding others. Liberty is a present from Heaven, and every individual of the same species has the right to enjoy it as soon as he enjoys reason. . . .

Tower acquired by violence is only a usurpation, and lasts only as long as the force of him who commands prevails over that of those who obey, in such a fashion that if these latter become in their turn stronger and shake off their yoke, they do so with as much right and justice as did the former who had imposed it upon them. The same law that made the authority, unmakes it: it is the law of the stronger.

Therefore true and legitimate power necessarily has limits. . . . The prince holds from his subjects themselves the authority that he has over them; and this authority is limited by the laws of nature and of state. . . . Besides, the government, although hereditary in a family and placed in the hands of a single individual, is not a piece of private property, but is public property, which in consequence can never be wrested from the people, to whom alone it belongs essentially and in full ownership. ... It is not the state which belongs to the prince, but rather the prince who belongs to the


WHAT READERS FOUND IN VOLUME I OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 143

state; but it pertains to the prince to govern the state, because the state has chosen him for that, because he has engaged himself toward the people for the administration of affairs, and because these, for their part, have engaged themselves to obey him conformably to the laws/ 34

This was stout doctrine, especially during a reign in which Louis XV was to tell a delegation of judges, I am your master, I intend to be obeyed. I am aware of all the rights that I hold from God, It belongs to none of my subjects to limit them or decide the extent of them. 35 The Encyclopedic did not indulge very frequently in libertarian essays on the sources of political power, although this article on Authority, another by Diderot on Natural Law* (Droit naturel), and a later one by Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Economic politique in which there appears for the first time in his writings the famous concept of the general will prove that it did so often enough to keep both friend and enemy on the alert.

Both friend and enemy eagerly turned to the first volume to learn what the Encyclopedic would say concerning the manifold matters relating to religious faith. The subject was quite inescapable. On the one hand, there existed an elaborate and established system of authoritarian faith, constantly manifesting an extreme sensitivity to anything that could be construed as inimical to it. And on the other hand there was the pressure of a growing scientific and positivistic movement, represented by the Encyclopedic, which sought the freedom to search for truth even at the cost of modifying or unsettling accepted articles of faith. What was occurring at that time was like the uproar and turmoil that took place in the nineteenth century over the higher criticism and the concept of evolution. To translate the struggle into the idiom of a later time, the Encyclopedists were contending with fundamentalists. This aspect of the contest between them is admirably illustrated by a contemporary anecdote, even though the incident con cerned Swedish Lutherans rather than Roman Catholic Frenchmen. One day in the eighteenth century, some Swedish scientists discovered a certain alteration in the shores of the Baltic. Immediately the theologians of Stock holm made representations to the government that "this remark of the Swedish scientists, not being consistent with Genesis, must be condemned." To whom reply was made that God had made both the Baltic and Genesis, and that, if there was any contradiction between the two works, the error must lie in the copies that we have of the book, rather than in the Baltic Sea, of which we have the original/ 36 In France there was no one with enough authority to speak to the clergy or their defenders in such terms, with the result that persons of the stripe of Diderot had to live under much


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 144

the same apprehensions as that o a teacher in Tennessee attempting, about the time of the famous evolution trial; to do what he could to impart scientific biological knowledge.

Since persons combating religious authoritarianism could never attack their adversary outright and stay out of prison or continue to enjoy the right to publish the contest became one of wits. The Encyclopedic is a subtle work, written, as Diderot himself declared, to discredit prejudices adroitly/ often concealing or almost concealing its real opinions, and pru- dentially conveying with a wink and a nudge what it did not dare to say aloud. 37 Diderot s attack on the illiberality of religious belief was set forth in the Encyclopedic under several guises, and to detect his various devices must have been as entertaining to his partisans as it was infuriating to his opponents. For example, the Encyclopedic contained frequent appeals to reason, though not without a certain air of smugness, implying that the writer already had all of it. Thus Diderot wrote, in an article defining to adore : The manner of adoring the true God ought never to deviate from reason, because God is the author of reason, and because He has desired it to be used even in the judgments of what is suitable to do or not to do in respect to Him. 88

A favorite contrivance of the Encyclopedists was to expose, in all their multitudinousness, the various heresies of the Christian Church. This was a trick they had learned from Bayle. Their descriptions, as Diderot s of the Agonyclytes heretics of the seventh century, whose maxim it was never to pray on their knees, but standing up 39 were written impas sively but not without a certain trace of unctuousness. Combined with the somewhat elaborate and ostentatious arrayal of the astonishing variety of belief that had occurred in the history of the Christian Church was a con stant, undoubtedly sincere, and extremely characteristic appeal for tolera tion and broad-mindedness on theological subjects. This was the Enlighten ment seeking to discredit scholastic discussion and religious dispute. Diderot wrote a typical example of this sort of appeal in an article on a Mohammedan sect: 40 Furthermore, I shall observe that the concurrence of God, His providence, His prescience, predestination, liberty, occasion disputes and heresies wherever they are discussed, and that Christians would do well in these difficult questions, says M. d Herbelot in his Bibliotheque orientate, to seek to instruct one another peaceably, if that be possible, and to tolerate one another charitably on those occasions where they are of different senti ments. Indeed, what do we know of such matters? Quis consiliarius ejus juit? *

  • Who was the authority for it?


WHAT READERS FOUND IN VOLUME I OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 145

Another device used by the Encyclopedic was the castigation of certain ancient pagan practices that, in reality, had close and obvious Christian analogues. Partly this technique bespoke an intellectual deficiency on the part of the philosofhes in that they showed little understanding of the religious im pulse in man s psychological nature, little realization that they were by way of building a kind of church of their own. Moreover, their scorn for all re ligious institutions, whether primitive or advanced, reveals to a twentieth- century reader that the sciences of anthropology, comparative religion, and sociology were then only embryonic. It cannot be denied, however, that the philosofhes drew great advantage from what was essentially a propaganda device: no devout Christian could take them to task for heaping scorn on pagan customs. And so Diderot wrote, for example, of the eagle, in an article which was far from being ornithological: The eagle may be seen in the images of Jupiter, sometimes at his feet, sometimes at his side, and almost always carrying a thunderbolt in his talons. There is every appear ance that this whole fable is founded simply upon observing the flight of the eagle, who loves to soar in the loftiest clouds and abide in the realm of the thunderbolts. That was all that was necessary to make it the bird of the god of heaven and the air, and give it a thunderbolt to carry. One had only to get the Pagans started when their gods were to be honored: rather than remain at rest, superstition conjures up the most gross and extravagant visions. Then these visions become consecrated by time and by the credulity of peoples; and woe to him who, without being bidden by God to the great and perilous calling of a missionary, loves his repose so little and knows mankind so ill as to take upon himself to instruct them. If you introduce a ray of light into a nest of owls, you will only injure their eyes and excite their cries. A hundred times happy are the people bidden by religion to believe only true, sublime, and holy things, and to imitate only virtuous actions. Such a religion is ours, wherein the Philosopher has only to follow his reason in order to arrive at the foot of our altars/ 41

Thus Diderot ended this article with a pious flourish which the orthodox and the nai ve found very edifying, but which the sophisticated presumed to be heavily ironical. This practice of saying, somewhat ostentatiously, the contrary of what he meant has raised through the years some contention as to Diderot s intellectual honesty. Even Voltaire, an expert if ever man was in covering his own tracks, was wont to complain that Diderot went to quite unnecessary lengths in his willingness to conform. The circumstances in which the two men wrote were quite different, however. Voltaire chose to live where he could nimbly skip across the border into Geneva when trouble threatened. Diderot lived in Paris, and also felt a heavy responsibility


I4 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

toward his Parisian publishers, whose fortunes were invested in the venture. This situation led to a number of complicated moral problems. Did not the stark necessity of bare survival justify an apparent acquiescence in orthodoxy? What were the moral rights and obligations of an editor under conditions so perilous and adverse? Could a man remain honest and still publish orthodox statements in which he had no belief? Were there any moral considerations conferring upon him the right to dissimulate his real opinions? These were problems Diderot lived with every day of the twenty-five years that the Encyclopedic was in preparation, and we find him now and again alluding in the Encyclopedic to the hazards of his exposed position. In the very first volume, he refers to criticisms of Pliny in a situation that is transparently also his own. In the article on Achor, the fly-chasing god or god of the flies, Diderot seems to be making a bid to his partisans for an understanding of the difficulties of his position. Tliny says/ he wrote, that the inhabitants of Gyrene sacrificed to him [Achor], in order to obtain deliverance from these insects, which sometimes occasioned contagious sicknesses in their country. This author adds that they [the flies] died as soon as the sacrifice had been made. A modern scholar remarks that Pliny could have contented himself with saying, for the honor of truthfulness, that this was the vulgar opinion. As for me, it seems to me that one ought not to demand a truth that might be dangerous to express, from an author accused of lying on so many occasions in which he would have been truthful had it not been for the consequences; and that Pliny, who, apparently, hardly believed in the divinity of the god of the flies, but who did undertake to instruct us of the prejudice of the inhabitants of Cyrene in that regard, could not express himself otherwise without jeopardizing his own tranquillity. This is, I believe, one of those occasions when one can not draw from an author s testimony any conclusion either against himself or for the fact that he attests/ 42

The Encyclopedic, far from seizing every possible opportunity to fly in the face of orthodoxy, frequently seemed to acquiesce in it. But often the reasons adduced for believing in a given matter were perfidious, arousing more doubts than they allayed. Sometimes a defense can be so extraordinarily nerveless and unconvincing that it leaves the reader, as lago left Othello, with long and lingering doubts. Nowhere was this technique of the Ency clopedic more palpable than in articles in which the literal interpretation of the Old Testament was involved. It was not to be expected that the Encyclopedic would ever put itself into the position of flatly contradicting what was officially regarded as the revealed word of God, but by the pro-


WHAT READERS FOUND IN VOLUME I OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 147

liferation of common-sense considerations or by the confusing juxtaposition of erudite, orthodox, and mutually contradictory authorities, it managed to stir up doubts. Nor was this sort of attack gratuitous or without justifica tion. The battle over fundamentalism in the nineteenth century suggests that the leaders of the Enlightenment a century earlier were not mistaken in feeling that the infant biological and social sciences were fighting for breath and life against the suffocation that comes from a belief in the literal truth of the Book of Genesis. Had the Roman Catholic Church of two hundred years ago regarded scientific inquiry in the spirit of Pope Pius XII s address to the Pontifical Academy of Science in 1951, conditions would have been profoundly different. The scientists and social scientists of 1751 would not then have experienced the sense of intellectual strangula tion that they did.

The Encyclopedie, of course, did not invent the technique of casting rationalistic doubts upon the Old Testament. That mine had been opened by Spinoza in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670) and had been industriously exploited by the English deists. Voltaire found many a nugget there, and the Encyclopedic, too, made many profitable trips to the pit head. One of the most interesting was the article in the first volume concerning Noah s Ark (Arche de Noe}, an article contributed by the Abbe Mallet. 43 With a very grave countenance and the mien of a person dancing a stately pavanc, the Abbe set forth what the best authorities had conjectured concerning the time it had taken to build so large an edifice, especially considering that the Scriptures say that only four persons ever worked upon it; what must have been their strength, considering the size of the timbers needed; how many species of animals had to be provided for, making extrapolation for all those species not even yet known to Europeans; the dimensions and internal arrangement of the Ark, the probable number of decks, the amount of fodder needed, the disposition of weight to prevent tipping, storage space for fodder and fresh water, arrangements for cleaning and ventilating the animals stalls, and the probable minimum number of the same; provisions for an extra number of lambs for food for the carnivorous animals; the possibility of a fish reservoir for the food supply of amphibious animals and birds, etc. By the time the Abbe laid down his pen it was evident that a considerable number of common-sense problems are presented by Noah s Ark. But, as Diderot remarked elsewhere in Volume I, the word of God, who explained Himself positively concerning these important matters, leaves no place for hypotheses. 44


4 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

The several devices that Diderot and his collaborators employed to stimulate merest in the Encyclopedic were frequently combined in a single article, vfany contributions that purport to be summaries of existing knowledge on rertain subjects actually are vibrating and resonant with overtones of the enlightenment. Let one very good sample suffice in illustration: the sup plementary article, six columns in length, that Diderot wrote on Ame (Soul or Mind). The principal article on this tricky and touchy subject was treated by the Abbe Yvon in a conventional and innocuous manner. What Diderot did in addition was to speculate where in the body the dmc resided; to show by his numerous references and citations that he was fully informed about current scientific investigations on the subject; to point out the close connection between soul and body, so that a disarrangement of a nerve fiber can bring on mental illness; to proffer some advice on child care; to give some interesting and specific case histories, one of which cor related religious hysteria with physical disease; and to end the whole by posing a problem bearing upon both aesthetics and psychopathology, namely whether painting has as much influence on the soul as music!

This was the sort of approach that opened windows and broadened hori zons. Yet to the orthodox and conventional in matters of religion, any discussion of the soul that suggested any organic connection with the body was likely to seem vaguely impious and somehow impudent. Nevertheless the progress of knowledge indubitably required exploration of this very relationship. The problem was unfortunately and unnecessarily embittered by an accident of language: the French word dme means both soul and mind. 45 It is the portal word, the junction point, for both theology and science, for both metaphysics and psychology. Probably the intellectual crisis of the eighteenth century in France would not have engendered such bitterness had men been able to talk of the mind without theologians sup posing that they were talking of the soul. Perhaps the growth of science in the eighteenth century, for which the Encyclopedic and Diderot fought so fiercely, would not have had to take a turn so aggressively anticlerical had the philosophes been able to talk of psychology, neurology, and psycho- pathology in other words, of the mind without being suspected of de siring to attack or demolish the concept of the soul. Perhaps the milder and less embittered form that the Enlightenment took in the English-speaking world was owing to nothing more than the fact that the English language has a word for each. No wonder Diderot often revealed an awareness of the problem of semantics.

The idea that the mind and the body, or the soul and the body, are bound


WHAT READERS FOUND IN VOLUME I OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIE 149

together in close and reciprocal relationship would seem to be nothing but common sense. Yet in Diderot s day one had to be exceedingly careful what one said on this subject, lest one be traduced as a materialist and an atheist. Nevertheless this is a concept absolutely basic for the scientific understand ing of mental disease, just as it is also the foundation of all neurological studies and of psychosomatic medicine. Diderot s most daring writings on this subject, such as D Alembert s Dream, were much too dangerous to be published during his lifetime. But in the Encyclopedic he wrote what he could, never being one to fail to recognize an issue of importance or to avoid discussing it as much as was possible. Let us consider, he wrote in his supplementary article on the Ame c on what small things depend the functioning of the Ame: a fiber out of order, a drop of extravasated blood, a slight inflammation, a fall, a contusion: and farewell to judgment, reason, and all that sagacity of which men are so vain. All this vanity depends upon a filament well or poorly placed, healthy or unhealthy. 46

The Encyclopedic was a great reference book, a great repository of knowl edge. But it was more than that, by far. The Encyclopedia conveyed to its readers a stimulus that was frequently as much emotional as it was intel lectual. Consequently, the terms used to describe the Encyclopedic^ effect should not convey simply passive images. The words descriptive of it should be active. It was a detergent, a tool with a cutting edge, a window opener. It was something that one could learn to use for the performance of tasks one was insufficiently equipped to do before. And because this was so, it was unavoidable that the Encyclopedic and its principal editors were destined to figure conspicuously in the history and politics of the eighteenth century.


CHAPTER 12


Up till Now, Hell Has Vomited Its Venom Drop by Drop


Y THE time that Volume I of the Encyclopedic was finally published on 28 June 1751, public interest had been whetted to a sharp edge of expectation. There had been the two prospectuses, the one of 1745 as well as the more elaborate one in 1750; there had been the preliminary publication of sample articles, Diderot s on Art and the naturalist Daubenton s on Bee (Abeille) and Agate 1 that on the bee to show that the Encyclopedic would be an indispensable repository of information already acquired, the one on agate to show how it would include information entirely new and unavailable elsewhere; and gaining the most public attention of all, there had been the hot-tempered exchange between Diderot and Father Berthier of the Journal de Trevoux. In addition, Diderot s previous publications, both the salacious and the rad ical, had indicated that his editing would be anything but colorless, so that potential friends of the new work counted upon finding their best hopes, potential enemies their worst fears, fully confirmed.

The excellence of the Encyclopedic was attested by attempts of foreigners to pirate it. Only a few months after the publication of the first volume the publishers became aware that they were being paid this sincerest kind of flattery. A syndicate of English publishers, hoisting the Jolly Roger, pre fixed to their translation of the Preliminary Discourse and its accompany ing documents the announcement that the Proprietors have engaged in a Design of reprinting the Whole at London, with a View to serve their Country, by encouraging Arts, Manufactures, and Trades; and keeping large Sums at Home, that would otherwise be sent Abroad. They offer their Work at Half the Price of the Paris Edition; and hereby promise, in case they meet with no Discouragement, to proceed regularly in printing the

150


  • UP TILL NOW, HELL HAS VOMITED ITS VENOM DROP BY DROP* 15!

subsequent Volumes/ 2 To head oft this threat, the French publishers author ized Briasson and David to go to London to treat with the English book sellers and offer them copies of the French edition at very low cost. The Frenchmen made this journey in November and entered into an agreement, the details of which are obscure but which was ratified by their partners in February ij^i. 5 This is the last heard of this particular venture in piracy. Still another English translation was proposed at about the same time, this one by a Sir Joseph AylofEe. Apparently the French publishers did nothing about it, and AyloflEe s project, which appeared in weekly installments be ginning on ii January 1752 and costing six pence each, seems never to have proceeded beyond the eighth installment. 4

The publication of the first volume of the Encyclopedic made it the focus of discussion in Paris. It had both censors and partisans, remarked Raynal, who added that both were in the right, for the work was blameworthy for the useless subjects included and praiseworthy because of its philosophic spirit. 5 The statement of the journalist Clement of Geneva, expressed in his news letter of 15 August 1751, also reveals the volume s somewhat mixed reception: You have remarked, Monsieur, that with his vagrant as well as scientific imagination, M. Diderot would inundate us with words and sentences. This is the complaint of the public against his first volume, which appeared a little while ago. But an infinitely copious background of material and a fine taste for sound philosophy, which gives value to it, compensate for all these superfluities. 6 Intellectual snobs complained that the Encyclo pedic was a short-cut to culture, 7 a view rather frequently expressed as this typical epigram shows:

Well, here we have the Encyclopedic, What luck for the ignorant! How this learned rhapsody Will hatch out false savants! *

A little later Raynal remarked that one often finds in the Encyclopedic what one is not looking for, and often searches fruitlessly for what one wants. Several of the authors write in a barbarous style, several in a precious manner, and many possess nothing but prolixity. Still later he wrote that the first volume of the Encyclopedic, which at first succeeded very well, is quite gen erally scoffed at. One sees such revolutions only in France. 8

  • Voici done YEncy clop die;

Quel bonhcur pour Ics ignorants! Que cette doctc rapsodie Fcra naitrc dc faux savants I


It - 2 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

The evidence of an increasing subscription list proves that Raynal was exaggerating. Le Breton was printing an edition of 2,075 in place of the 1,625 originally planned. 9 Yet criticism did exist, symbolized by a rather ominous epigram which D Hemery picked up and recorded in his journal: 10

Je suis bon encyclopediste, Je connais le mal et le bien. Je suis Diderot a la piste; Je connais tout, je ne crois rien.*

The first rumblings of the attack came in the September columns of the influential Journal des Sgavans, and greatly upset D Alembert. The Journal praised the Preliminary Discourse/ but Ve are obliged to warn that this work has its defects. . . . The author supposes that sensations alone con stitute the origin of ideas, . . . The system of Locke is dangerous for re ligion, although one has no objections to make when those who adopt it do not draw noxious conclusions from it. M. d Alembert is of this number; he recognizes rather eloquently the spirituality of die soul and the existence of God, but he is so brief on each of these subjects, concerning which there are so many things to say, and he is so copious on others that the reader has a right to demand the reason for the distinction. . . .

One might suspect this Preface of an affected laconism in respect to re ligion. 11

Much more trouble was made by the Journal de Trevoux. The animad versions of these Jesuits proceeded in a crescendo. Their first review, sour and grudging, appeared in the issue for October 1751. D Alembert had spoken in the Preliminary Discourse of those pedantic puerilities honored by the name of Rhetoric/ and the Jesuits evidently felt that this shaft had been aimed directly at them, rhetoric being so important a part of the educa tion they dispensed to Europe. (They also took some of Diderot s remarks in his article on Aristotelianism as intended to disparage them.) 12 This made them captious. When D Alembert remarked that Pope Zacharias had rebuked a bishop, they pointed out peevishly that it wasn t a bishop, it was a priest. When D Alembert praised Voltaire for writing good prose, the Journal pettishly remarked that other poets were known to have written good prose, too. But the Journal was on firmer ground when it called attention

  • I am a good Encyclopedist,

I know both good and evil. I follow hot on Diderot s trail; I know everything and believe in nothing.


UP TILL NOW, HELL HAS VOMITED ITS VENOM DROP BY DROP* 153

to various editorial and typographical slips, especially to the frequent failure of the Encyclopedic to give adequate credit to its sources. 18

Month after month, the Journal de Trevoux returned to the attack. 14 In November it complained of the Encyclopedias policy of excluding history and biography from its articles. The names of kings, savants, saints, etc., are excluded from the Encyclopedic, yet those of pagan divinities are ad mitted, and this occurs not only for gods of the first order, such, for example, as Amphitrite, Anubis, Apis, Apollo, Astraea, etc., but also for those of the second or third rank, such as Abellio, Achor, Acratus, Adephagie, Adramelech, Aius Locutius, and a multitude of others. 1 The last named article, in which Diderot had pleaded for the free expression of ideas provided they were written in a learned language, presumably Latin, profoundly shocked the editors of the Journal de Trevoux as being contrary to the tranquillity of the state and religion. It was transparent that the editors felt that if ever there was an instance of liberty seeking to become license, this was it. The first volume of the Encyclopedic, they said ominously, showed no vestige of having been submitted to the customary censorship. 15 A remark such as this must have warned the editors of the Encyclopedie that their project was under ruthless and unscrupulous attack, for the volume had been submitted to the censors, as we have seen, and one of the most respected theologians of France, the Abbe Tamponnet, a former syndic of the Sorbonne, had certified on 15 March 1751 that by order of My Lord the Chancellor I have read the portion of the Encyclopedie concerning theology and eccle siastical history, in which I have found nothing contrary to sound doctrine.* 16

In attempting to undercut the prestige of the Encyclopedic, the Journal de Trevoux developed very effectively the technique of identifying and ex posing plagiarisms. A little plagiarism goes a long way in discrediting a book s claim to originality, even though the vast mass of the work be new, and the editors of the Journal de Trevoux, with their talent for polemical in-fighting, naturally struck the Encyclopedie precisely where it hurt the most. 17 Unacknowledged borrowings were all too common in the Encyclo pedie. It is true, although rather beside the point, that in spite of them the Encyclopedie was a work of great utility. This, in fact, the Journal de Trevoux cheerfully acknowledged, especially with regard to the arts and crafts. One may pillage the way the bees do/ wrote the Journal de Trevoux, carefully acknowledging their source, without doing anybody wrong, but the thievery of the ant, which walks off with the whole thing, ought never to be imitated. 18 Indeed, these strictures were so devastating that Diderot


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 154

and D Alembert felt the necessity of inserting an explanation in the preface to their second volume. 19

Besides dilating upon the matter of plagiarism, the Journal de Jrevoux took very great exception to the article that Diderot wrote on Authority. It took equally great offense at a remark by the Abbe* Yvon that most men honor letters as they do religion and virtue, that is to say, as a matter that they do not choose either to understand or practice or love/ 21 After three pages of comment set off by this fuse, the Journal concluded by saying, This is sufficient concerning this article which alarms (we happen to know) people of merit and which deserves the greatest attention on the part of the authors and editors of the Encyclopedic in order that henceforth nothing else of the sort creeps into it/ 22 In general, the attitude of the Journal dc Trevoux might be described as touched with condescension: These reflections/ wrote the editor, are not intended to wound the authors of the great Dictionary. As the work advances, no doubt it will acquire a greater perfection; and we shall review it with an equal degree of care and

impartiality. 23

Disagreeable as the Journal de Trevoux was making itself, its strictures were nevertheless scarcely influential enough by themselves to be catastrophic. Serious trouble did supervene, however, when, in addition to having to weather the attacks of the Journal de Trevoux, the Encyclopedic found itself involved in the celebrated scandal of the thesis of the Abbe de Prades, an episode that has been called the culminating point of the religious history of the eighteenth century. 24

On 18 November 1751 the Abbe Jean-Martin de Prades triumphantly de fended during a ten-hour public examination *ab octavd matutind ad sextem vespertinam, ran the posted thesis announcing the event a the ological thesis qualifying him for the licentiate in the theological faculty of die University of Paris. This was an advanced degree for which he had been several years in preparation, and for which he had satisfied all the usual requirements, such as securing the necessary approval of various Sorbonne doctors and officials before printing his thesis. Entitled Jerusalem coelesti, it was published in an edition of 450 copies and had been publicly posted for the statutory length of time before the public examination in the usual form of such theses, printed on extremely heavy paper, elephant folio size, on a single sheet. A considerable collection of these theses, De Prades s among them, may be seen today at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. 25 Usually decorated with an engraving of a scene depicting a religious subject or suggesting religious awe, the theses, most of which were quite short,


  • UP TILL NOW, HELL HAS VOMITED ITS VENOM DROP BY DROP 155

usually fitted readily into the single-page format. De Prades s thesis was considerably longer than the ordinary, approximately eight thousand words, so it was printed in extremely small type.

Indeed, the type was so small that apparently no one took the trouble to read it, including the reverend professor of theology, an Irishman named Luke Joseph Hooke, whose special and particular responsibility it was. The Abbe de Prades sailed through his examination triumphantly, and not until some days afterward did rumors begin to fly that the Sorbonne had solemnly placed its seal of approval upon a thesis that was later characterized by formal censure of the Sorbonne itself as blasphemous, heretical, erroneous, favorable to materialism, contrary to the authority and integrality of the laws of Moses, subversive of the foundations of the Christian religion, and impiously calling into question the veridity and divinity of the miracles of Jesus Christ. 26 Thereupon everyone began to read the small print. What everyone found in this dissertation, which purported to summarize all the arguments in proof of Christian revelation, was something that closely followed the psychological doctrines, and even their manner of presentation, in D Alem- bert s Preliminary Discourse. 27 De Prades further argued that any faith that preserves the natural law in all its purity is preferable to any re vealed religion except, of course, the only true one. This was an argument practically identical with Diderot s in his manuscript work On the Suf ficiency of Natural Religion. 2S In other portions of his thesis De Prades expounded the fact that three different systems of chronology are to be found in the Pentateuch, from which he concluded that Moses had had nothing to do with any of them; and then the candidate proceeded to examine the nature of the proof requisite for a belief in miracles. He ended by de claring that the healings performed by Jesus Christ were similar in a number of respects to those performed by Aesculapius! 29

The only plausible reason explaining why De Prades was able to pass an examination in defense of such propositions is that there must have been in the Sorbonne a number of ecclesiastics who were not yet opposed to the new philosophy 1 and the intellectual methods it entailed. 80 It is pre cisely for this reason that the incident is important in the intellectual history of the eighteenth century, for after this the lines were sharply drawn. ^Nothing is better calculated/ wrote a pamphleteer just at this time, for making obvious the danger of the system that places the origin of our ideas in the impression of the senses than does the use that the enemies of Re ligion make of it. Doubtless because it has been regarded as merely a phil osophical opinion, there has been no alarm over the favor gained by this


r DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

156

system, even in the Schools of the University, during the past few years. But the impious thesis of Monsieur de Prades has finally opened people s eyes concerning the disturbing consequences that result from it/ 31

The Sorbonne now found itself in an extremely embarrassing position, for if ever there was an institution in the ancien regime expected to be vigilant in the protection of orthodoxy, it was the faculty of theology of the University of Paris. Reproached by its friends and mocked by its enemies, it was in the mortifying position of an armed service that discovers that its most famous battleship has, in a moment of negligence, gone aground.

The result, usual in such circumstances, was a search for scapegoats. A Sorbonne committee proposed on 3 January 1752 that ten propositions set forth in the thesis be censured. There then followed eleven general assemblies of the Sorbonne, during which no less than 146 doctors were present, according to one authority; delivered speeches, according to another. 32 It developed that the unfortunate Hooke had approved De Prades s thesis without reading it, being much preoccupied at that moment with correcting the proofs of a book of his own! 33 Hooke lost his chair. De Prades s thesis was condemned by the Sorbonne, as well as by the Archbishop of Paris and the Pope. 34 The comments of the Bishop of Montauban, to whose juris diction De Prades was responsible, were particularly comprehensive. Up till now/ he wrote in a pastoral charge, Hell has vomited its venom, so to speak, drop by drop. Today there are torrents of errors and impieties which tend toward nothing less than the submerging of Faith, Religion, Virtues, the Church, Subordination, the Laws, and Reason. Past centuries have wit nessed the birth of sects that, while attacking some Dogmas, have respected a great number of them; it was reserved to ours to see impiety forming a system that overturns all of them at one and the same time. 35 De Prades fled to Berlin, in order to escape the warrant for his arrest, and there became reader to Frederick the Great. Some years later, he recanted and made his peace with the Church.

Meanwhile it began to be alleged that the whole imbroglio was simply the result of a conspiracy on the part of the editors of the Encyclopedic, a plot to overturn religion. Even the Jansenists, who regarded both the philo- sophes and the Sorbonne with equal malevolence, remarked in their under ground newspaper, Les Nouvelks EccUsiastiques, that the stir caused by the thesis has occasioned the discovery through different circumstances and by certain facts that the thesis of M. de Prades was the result of a conspiracy formed by some would-be freethinkers in order to insinuate their monstrous errors into the Faculty of Theology and moreover to make more conspicuous,


C UP TILL NOW, HELL HAS VOMITED ITS VENOM I>ROP BY DROP* 157

if possible, the irreligion and impiety that they affect/ 36 The same allegation was made in a pamphlet entitled Reflexions d un Franciscain, which, though it had a frontispiece representing Diderot being flogged by a Franciscan, probably was not written by a Franciscan at all. 37 Diderot, in his article on Aristotelianism, had provocatively declared that Duns Scotus, the famous Franciscan theologian, made his merit consist in contradicting Saint Thomas Aquinas in every respect; one finds in him nothing but vain subtleties and a system of metaphysics rejected by everyone with common sense. 38 It is not surprising that some sort of counterattack in answer to this should soon appear in the name of the Franciscans. The Reflexions d un Franciscain, if we may believe D Hemery, who referred to the pamphlet in his journal entry for 20 January 1752, was really written by Father Geoffroy, a Jesuit professor of rhetoric at the order s famed College Louis-le-Grand. 39 Here we see once again how the Jesuits took the lead in attacking the Encyclopedic. The pamphlet pointed out that De Prades lodged under the same roof with two priests associated with the Encyclopedic [the Abbes Yvon and Mallet], that he was a contributor to it himself, and that among his colleagues on the Encyclopedic were several quite capable of writing such a thesis. 40 More over, the Franciscan contended that earlier theses by De Prades could not compare in Latinity or intellectual competence with the Jerusalem coelesti^ It was regarded as a particularly suspicious circumstance that the Pre liminary Discourse of Volume I had spoken in high praise of a forthcoming work by De Prades on religion, although in reality there is nothing to show that it was De Prades s thesis that D Alembert had had in mind. 42 Moreover, the Abbe was the acknowledged author of the long and important article in Volume II of the Encyclopedic on Certitude. This article, prob ably written by De Prades in good faith, explored searchingly the logical and historical grounds for believing testimony regarding miracles, especially that of the Scriptures in general and of the Resurrection in particular. It was a sober and ingenious piece of work, but it must be admitted that while it claimed to deepen faith, it could scarcely have done so save in the case of persons already determined to believe. Since Volume II saw the light in late January 1752 (even though the title page bears the date 1751), just at the time of the greatest uproar over De Prades s thesis, it was easy to portray the whole concatenation of incidents as nothing but the ramifications of an Encyclopedist plot. 43

What is the evidence for this persistent and frequently stated suspicion? All of it is circumstantial and inconclusive. In their most extreme form, the allegations insinuate that De Prades was mentally incompetent and simply


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


allowed himself to be a sort of ventriloquist s dummy for D Alembert and Diderot. This can hardly be, for De Prades sustained a long and searching oral examination upon his thesis, a feat that requires both previous prepara tion and mental adaptability. There is no evidence that D Alembert or Diderot wrote all or any part of De Prades s thesis for him, although there is a good deal of testimony to the effect that the Abbe Yvon did. 44 According to Naigeon, Diderot played no part in it except for the counsel he gave the two authors to leave the usual highway a little to one side and to make the hardened ears of the doctors listen now and again to the language of reason. 45 Nor should it be forgotten that in their preface to Volume III of the Encyclopedic, Diderot and D Alembert asserted that we had not even read [the thesis] at the time when people were making use of it in the effort to ruin us/ 46

Or, if it was not insinuated that Diderot and D Alembert wrote or prac tically wrote the thesis, the allegations reduced themselves to accusation of guilt by association. Association there certainly was. After all, De Prades was the contributor of a very important article, and it would be entirely natural for a contributor, living in the same city as the editor, to be in personal touch with him. 47 This association with the eloquent and crepitating Diderot must have had a powerful effect on De Prades. If not, he was the first to escape such influence. But association is not the same as conspiracy, in spite of many eighteenth- and twentieth-century attempts to equate them.

This is not to contend that Diderot had no influence on the thesis, only that there is no proof that he did. It may even be that Diderot and D Alem bert encouraged De Prades to see how far it was possible to go, as a means of feeling out public opinion to guide them in their own editing of the Encyclopedic. 43 This could be, although to play such a game involved con siderable risks, as subsequent events were soon to prove.

In retrospect this period reveals itself as one of struggle between Diderot and the Jesuits, the stakes being, as it frequently came to be said, the editing of the Encyclopedic itself. The Jesuits were profoundly suspicious of the venture and, indeed, have remained so, as is evidenced by the fact that as recently as 1952 a writer in the Jesuit periodical Etudes referred to the Encyclopedic as the most formidable machine that ever was set up against religion. 49 In 1752 the Jesuits appear to have been determined either to capture the Encyclopedic or to destroy it. Such was the interpretation several contemporary observers put on the effort to discredit Diderot and the En cyclopedic by representing the De Prades affair to be the result of a con spiracy. This interpretation of the incident was subscribed to not merely


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by such a weekly news letter as La Bigarure, which might have published the charge just for effect, but also by Voltaire, to whom is usually attributed the pamphlet called Le Tom beau de la S or bonne. His asseverations, how ever, could conceivably be regarded as counterpropaganda, just as could those of Grimm, who referred in his confidential news letter to odious con spiracies. 50 But the frequent declarations of the diarist Barbier, who wrote that this whole storm against this fine Dictionary comes by the medium of the Jesuits/ and of D Argenson, the former secretary of state for foreign affairs, who asserted that this storm comes from the Jesuits, have all the weight due to the conclusions of well-placed persons who, in their con fidential diaries, may be presumed to have had no motive for altering what they conceived to be the truth. 51 As early as mid-January 1752, D Argenson was predicting that the Encyclopedic would be suppressed and that the Jesuits would take it over. 62

Powerful elements at the Court also joined in the fight against the Ency clopedic. Their leader was the tutor of the Dauphin, Boyer, the former bishop of Mirepoix, a man said to be devoted to the Jesuits. 53 Boyer was entrusted with the ecclesiastical patronage of the kingdom and consequently was a powerful and influential personage. He took alarm at the De Prades incident and linked it with what he regarded as the subversiveness of the Encyclopedic. The most ardent enemy of the Encyclopedic, wrote Males- herbes, who ought to know, because his position as director of the book trade made him the one official to whom complaints of this sort were ad dressed in the first instance, was the former bishop of Mirepoix. He carried his complaints to the King himself, and said to him with tears in his eyes that one could no longer conceal from him that religion was about to be ruined in his kingdom/ 64 It is not very surprising, then, that an Arrct du Conseil du Roy (7 February 1752) suppressed the further publication, sale, and distribution of the Encyclopedic: His Majesty has found that in these two volumes a point has been made of inserting several maxims tending to destroy the royal authority, to establish a spirit of independence and revolt, and, under cover of obscure and ambiguous terminology, to build the founda tions of error, of moral corruption, of irreligion, and of unbelief. 55

For the second time in his life, Diderot found himself involved in the public policy of the state. Both incidents, the one leading to Vincennes in 1749 and this one, ending in the catastrophe of the suppression of the Encyclopedic, were crises in the history of the freedom of thought, making Diderot an important figure in the political history of the eighteenth century. But it was most uncomfortable to exist in such an exposed position. The


160 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

Encyclopedic had been solemnly and officially described in the royal decree as being close to treasonous. By inference its editor had been pilloried in a state paper and singled out as a target for public indignation, assailed (to use the parlance of American journalism) as Public Enemy No. i. "This morning/ wrote D Argenson, appeared an arret du conseil which had not been foreseen: it suppressed the Dictionnaire encyclopedique, with some appalling allegations, such as revolt against God and the royal authority, corruption of morals . . . etc. It is said on this score that the authors of this dictionary, of which only two volumes have appeared, consequently must shortly be put to death, that there is no way of preventing their being hunted down and informed against.* 56

Diderot came to think, in his later years, that his own compatriots showed him less honor than did foreigners. The obloquy of the arr&t du conseil of February 1752 could very well have contributed to making this sentiment burgeon within him.


CHAPTER 13


The Encyclopedic Recontinued


D


DIDEROT S very person may have been in danger during the days following the suppression of the Encyclopedic. D Argenson reported on 12 February that it was rumored that a lettre de cachet had been issued against him, and supplemented this hearsay by the further entry, 25 February, that Diderot had taken flight in order to forestall arrest; and Barbier wrote that Diderot was afraid of being put a second time into the Bastille. * In reality, there is no evidence from a source close to Diderot that he ever left his house in the Rue de 1 Estrapade. Never theless this was probably a period of great anxiety and alarm, especially as he was forced to surrender what manuscripts he had in preparation for suc ceeding volumes. There have been taken away from him all the authors manuscripts, as well as from the publishers all remaining copies of the first two volumes and twenty-five sheets already printed of the third. 2 Ap parently Diderot delivered the manuscripts personally, sometime around 21 February, either to Malesherbes, the director of publications, or to his father, Lamoignon de Blancmesnil, who since 1750 had been D Aguesseau s successor as Chancellor of France. 3

The impounding of the manuscripts was preliminary to the Jesuits* at tempting to carry on the work. D Argenson had recorded, a week after the suppression, that it is not doubted that the Jesuits will take the enterprise over and continue it. . . . Barbier spoke of the Jesuits as having a devoted supporter in the person of Chancellor Lamoignon, and, if Grimm may be believed, it seems likely that the Jesuits were given a chance to see what they could do. Everything had been well concerted/ wrote Grimm a year later. The papers had already been taken away from M. Diderot. Thus it was that the Jesuits counted upon making away with an encyclopedia already completely finished ... by arranging and putting in order articles that they believed to be all prepared. But they had forgotten to take away

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from the philosopher his head and genius as well, and to ask him for the key to a large number of articles that, far from understanding, they strove in vain to make out/ 4

But all was not lost for Diderot, for through this lengthy crisis he had on his side a very powerful friend. This was Chretien-Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, a member of a very prominent family of lawyers and magistrates belonging to that class of the nobility called in the ancien regime the noblesse de robe. Since late in 1750, Malesherbes had been serving under his father, the Chancellor, as director of publications. He was only twenty-nine when he took up this office, in which he continued until 1763. During his administration the great battles over the Encyclopedic were fought, which almost entirely changed the intellectual complexion of France. It was scarcely possible for a man to occupy more of a key position than did he as arbiter and umpire during this momentous struggle.

At the time he took office, Malesherbes was already the presiding judge of the cour des aides, one of the tax courts of the ancien regime. This was a purchasable office, and the Lamoignon family, in accordance with the prac tice of the time, had simply bought it. What was out of the ordinary was that the person for whom the post was purchased should happen to be a man of intelligence, adequate legal training, and merit. Malesherbes was a man of unusual integrity, without any semblance of personal ambition, and had a fine sense of the responsibilities of his office along with a transparent desire to carry out its duties with justice to all. When unpretentiousness of character was being discussed one day at the famous Mme Geoffrin s, Males herbes name came up. So many people pretend to have it, said Mme Geofirin, but M. de Malesherbes, there s a man who is unpretentiously un pretentious/ 5

Malesherbes policy as director of publications was as simple and straight forward as the rest of him. This policy was molded by the fact that he held the highest view of the social usefulness of the man of letters, and once wrote that in a century in which every citizen can speak to the entire nation by means of print, those who have the talent for instructing men or the gift of moving them in a word, men of letters are, in the midst of a dis persed people, what the orators of Rome and Athens were in the midst of a people assembled/ 6 He himself alluded to his motives and policy in a letter written to one of the philosophes in 1758: As for what concerns me, you know that during many years I occupied myself exclusively with literature and lived only in the company of men of letters. When I found myself led by unforeseen circumstances and perhaps against my will


THE ENCYCLOPEDIE RECONTINUED 163

into a different sphere, I desired nothing else so much as to be able to render services to those with whom I had passed my life. I thought I had found the occasion of doing so when I was put in charge of the book trade, since I found myself in a position to procure for them the liberty of writing that I had always seen them sigh for, and to free them from many of the constraints under which they appeared to groan and of which they con tinually complained. I also considered this to be doing a service to the State, for this liberty has always seemed to me to have many more advantages than drawbacks. 7 Thus Malesherbes brought to the performance of his duties the convictions expressed by Milton in Areopagitica. It is unjust and im possible to domineer over opinions, wrote Malesherbes, and consequently [unjust and impossible] to suppress, garble, or correct the books in which they are set forth. 8 Believing as he did that the exchange of ideas was good for a society, Malesherbes constantly favored as little repression instead of as much as the pressures that played upon him would permit. For this reason he granted many tacit permissions to books that could not be given the official imprimatur of the Approbation et Privilege du Roi. Such a policy, he believed, was necessary in order to keep up with the world: *A man, he wrote, who had read only the books that, when published, ap peared with the express consent of the government the way the law pre scribes, would be behind his contemporaries almost a century. 9

With these convictions, it is obvious that Malesherbes often found himself in the position of defending radical works. The Encyclopedists were mis taken in not believing in Providence, wrote a witty historian of their doings, for it was manifestly for their sake that Providence gave to Malesherbes the direction of the book trade. 10 Yet it must not be supposed that he was a prejudiced and one-sided doctrinaire. Very often he revealed himself as being more in favor of freedom of the press freedom for both sides than the Encyclopedists were themselves. Not infrequently it seemed that what the philosophes wanted was not so much freedom as immunity. What they often demanded was apparently tantamount to the right to say what they pleased when they pleased, plus protection against the counterattacks of their enemies. In fact, Malesherbes seems to have been about the only person in eighteenth- century France who desired real freedom of the press. But real freedom of the press was a reform that had to wait upon the unfolding of portentous events. Meanwhile Malesherbes did his job with dignity and skill, respecting his office and making others respect it too, resisting undue encroachments on his functions by rival agencies in the government, and revealing an almost endless willingness to endure patiently the massive and capricious manifesta-


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


164

tions of temperament displayed so frequently and copiously by the selfsame

men of letters whom he was endeavoring to assist.

Much later, in 1775, Malesherbes became one of Louis XVI s ministers but, too eager for economy and reform to suit the court opinion of his day, he felt obliged to resign in the very next year. In 1792-3 he served his monarch for the last time: he was Louis XVTs principal lawyer and brilliant defender in the trial preceding the King s execution. The Terror had a rejoinder for such conspicuous devotion and in 1794 Malesherbes was tried and guillo tined. One of the few monuments to be seen today in the enormous and echoing Salle des Pas-Perdus in the Palace of Justice in Paris is a statue of Malesherbes. It is a fitting recognition of a courageous and honorable man, who cast over the declining days of the ancien regime the refulgence of a noble soul.

This was the man of whom one of Diderot s friends wrote that without him the Encyclopedic would most likely never have dared to appear/ 11 In this particular crisis of 1752 Malesherbes had not favored the suppression or even the suspension of the Encyclopedic, according to D Argenson, who got his information from one of Malesherbes 5 cousins. Instead he had felt that it would be sufficient simply to insert some substitute pages for the most offending passages. 12 But in this he had been overruled. It was probably owing to his influence, however, that the action taken by the King s Council only suppressed the first two volumes instead of revoking the license of the whole. 13 He may have been maneuvering, thought Barbier, to forestall action by the Parlement, which might have been more severe. 14 Considering the action the Parlement had taken six years before in having Diderot s Pcnsees philosophiques burned by the hangman, Barbier s hypothesis may have been correct.

During 1752 a number of questions regarding the final disposition of the Encyclopedic had to be settled. Were the Jesuits going to continue the enterprise? (If not, what were the factors preventing them?) If they did not, what terms would the government impose upon Diderot and D Alembert as a condition of allowing the work to be recontinued? And finally, would the latter raise any difficulties in consenting to these terms?

It is impossible to say why the Jesuits did not take over the Encyclopedic, and Grimm s statement that they were incapable is extremely unpersuasive. Still, it is the only testimony that we have on this tantalizing subject, leaving us in the realm of vague and dubious conjecture. Probably the fate of the Encyclopedic was involved in the chronic struggle for power at the French court, for Mme de Pompadour, since 1745 the King s mistress, was an enemy


THE ENCYCLOPEDIE RECONTINUED 165

of the Jesuits, so that by a sort of Euclidean corollary, she was well disposed toward the Encyclopedic.^ This very politically minded woman, the mistress of a man who usually regarded the affairs of his kingdom as no concern of his, was sincerely interested in the arts and somewhat in the sciences. La Tour s dazzling pastel of her, first exhibited in the Salon of 1755 and now hanging in the Louvre, symbolizes these interests : a portfolio of engravings is at her feet, in the background is a guitar resting on a sofa, she holds a piece of music in her hands, and on the table by her side are a globe and a number of volumes, including a folio on the back of which can be plainly read: ENCYCLOPEDIE, TOME IV. 16 D Argenson, evidently on the authority of D Alembert, remarked in his entry of 7 May 1752 that Mme de Pompadour and some ministers [perhaps D Argenson s brother, to whom the Encyclopedic had been dedicated] 17 have had D Alembert and Diderot entreated to devote themselves again to the work of the Encyclopedic, while practicing the requisite resistance to any temptation to touch upon religion or authority/ 18 This suggests that the anti-Jesuit coterie at the court, having somehow or other frustrated the Jesuits, were now in a position to turn to the former editors. Apparently those in responsibility had always intended to have the project eventually carried on somehow, probably because of the fact that many citizens and foreigners already had a vested interest in the Encyclopedic by virtue of having subscribed to it. 19 The jurisprudence of the ancien regime was especially regardful of property rights, and this deference to the vested rights of subscribers goes far to explain why the Encyclopedic was never permanently discontinued.

As might be expected, considering the previous uproar, the agreement for recontinuing the Encyclopedic involved arrangements for new censors. This was the more necessary because the original censors appointed by D Aguesseau were patently finding very little to criticize. As we have al ready seen, the Abbe Tamponnet had given Volume I a clean bill of health in respect to theology and ecclesiastical history. Moreover, the censor Lassone had liked the second volume even better than the first: *As the materials are assembled, a great edifice is being formed, where one sees developing with equal methodicalness and utility the various treasures that the human race has acquired for itself by its researches. 20 This was not the way Mirepoix and the Jesuits spoke about the work! The solution to the prob lem was worked out by Malesherbes, who offered Mirepoix to have all articles without exception censored by theologians whom he would choose himself.

He accepted my proposition with joy, and nominated the Abbes Tampon-


_gg DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

net, Millet, and Cottcrd, who were the ones in whom he had the most confidence.

Volumes II [Malesherbes memory was at fault here; the new arrange ment was for volumes following the second], III, IV, V, VI, and VII of the Encyclopedic were censored in entirety by these three doctors. There was not a single article the manuscript of which was not initialed by one of

the three. 21

No direct evidence exists describing Diderot s attitude and policy during this crisis. One is therefore reduced to the indirect and speculative device of attempting to descry Diderot through the medium of D Alembert. For what D Alembert thought and said about it all was quite explicit. He took care to apprise Voltaire of his sentiments in a letter dated 24 August I752 ^ a i etter w hose main purposes were to bespeak Voltaire s protection of the Abbe de Prades and to thank him for the handsome remarks regarding the Encyclopedic that he had inserted in the closing lines of his great history of the age of Louis XIV (Le Sieclc de Louis XIV). My colleague in the Encyclopedic joins me in thanking you/ wrote D Alembert, and then, after alluding to the suspension of it, he continued, C I suspected that after having maltreated us as they did, they would come around to begging us to continue, and this has not failed to come about. For six months I refused, I shouted like Homer s Mars, and I may say that I gave in only because of the public eagerness/ D Alembert s giving in to the public eagerness sounds like a reluctant politician s being persuaded by his eager constituents to run. D Alembert used this letter to suggest, perhaps not very seriously, that it might be possible to edit the Encyclopedic in Berlin under the eyes and with the protection and enlightenment of your philosopher prince. 22 To this Voltaire, then resident at Potsdam, hastily replied that there is a pro digious number of bayonets here, but very few books. 23 But the principal interest in D Alembert s letter arises from his use of pronouns. By saying 7 refused,* 7 shouted, 7 gave in, rather than using the collective we* which he employs elsewhere in these lines, he implies that Diderot s part was a subordinate one. This may be, for what evidence we have shows that D Alem bert made himself rather assertive that year. On i March he wrote to Formey at Berlin, Doubtless you have learned of the suppression of the Encyclopedic. I don t know whether the work will be continued, but I can assure you that it will not be by me. 24 In May, he was grumbling, in another letter to Formey, about the rather unfavorable review that the Preliminary Discourse had received at the hands of the Journal dcs Sfavans in its number of the previous September. He would not go on with the


THE ENCYCLOPEDIE RECONTINUED 167

Encyclopedic, he wrote, unless the Journal des Sgavans makes me an authen ticated apology just as I shall dictate it. Moreover, he went on, there shall be given to us enlightened and reasonable censors, and not brute beasts in fur, sold out to our enemies. . . . There shall be allowed to us the sustaining of all opinions not contrary to religion or government, such as the one that all ideas come from the senses, which our illustrious Sorbonne would like to make a heresy of, and an infinity of others. ... It shall be forbidden to the Jesuits, our enemies, to write against this work, to say either good or ill of it, or else it shall be permissible for us to engage in reprisals. 25 But D Alembert was unable to secure any such stipulations. Perhaps because he could not obtain these guarantees, he informed some of his correspondents that he was henceforth limiting his role in the Encyclopedic. Thus he wrote to Formey on 10 July that in the future he would be responsible for the mathematical portion on condition that I shall not take part in the rest. 26

D Alembert s assertions are a little self-contradictory and confusing, and they raise the problem as to the relative importance of the editorial roles of Diderot and himself. Was Diderot really the principal editor? Or was D Alembert in fact a co-editor with, in spite of the tide page - and for the mathematical portion, by M. d Alembert equal authority and respon sibilities? If not, D Alembert certainly seemed inclined to preen himself a bit before Voltaire as if he were. Voltaire, for his part, supposed for some years that D Alembert was in fact the work s principal editor, an impres sion which D Alembert does not seem to have disturbed when he visited Voltaire in 1756. It was not until Mme d Epinay visited Ferney in 1757 that Voltaire learned to his surprise how matters really stood. 27 At this moment in 1752 we see D Alembert (whose name, unlike Diderot s, had not ap peared on the publishers pay roll since early 1749) writing to Voltaire in such a fashion as to imply, by the use of pronouns, that the two men were co-editors, with Diderot the rather less active. Moreover, in refusing Frederick IPs proffer of the presidency of the Berlin Academy, D Alembert wrote in explanation on 16 September 1752: Besides I am in charge of a great work, as you know, conjointly with M. Diderot ... it is absolutely necessary that this work should be done and printed under our eyes, that we see each other often and work in concert upon it. 28

The truth, however, about the relative responsibilities of D Alembert and Diderot in editing the Encyclopedic is symbolized throughout the several volumes of the work by the typographical devices used to identify the con tributions of each. D Alembert s identification was always the letter O, and thus he figured symbolically with all the other contributors, to each


ro DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

loo

of whom a similar identifying letter had been assigned. Diderot s articles, on the other hand, were identified either by an asterisk or by no mark what ever In spite of this uniform and consistent symbolism, suggesting as it does that Diderot was always the principal editor, D Alembert s description of his functions was subject to somewhat confusing changes. He evidently thought of himself, in times of prosperity, as a co-editor; in times of ad versity, as a contributor.

For some time the government contemplated the issuance of a new decree reauthorizing the Encydoptdie, but eventually decided against it and merely allowed the work to reappear on tacit sufferance and without public and explicit approval 29 The Government has appeared to desire that an enter prise of this nature should not be abandoned, 5 D Alembert was permitted to write in his preface to Volume III. Grimm, writing a confidential news letter, could be more circumstantial. The government, he wrote when Volume III was published, was obliged, not without more or less con fusion, to take steps to engage M. Diderot and M. d Alembert to undertake again a work that had been attempted in vain by some people who for a long while have occupied the least place in literature. I say with more or less confusion because the government entreated the authors to continue, but without revoking the decrees issued against the work three months before. 130 And in fact the Encydoptdie, though now allowed to proceed, henceforth did so on a very tentative and provisional basis in point of law. Painful though the episode had been, and abused as Diderot and D Alem bert considered themselves to be, their enterprise greatly profited in the long run from the temporary and evanescent triumph of the opposition. They survived, which is sometimes a very considerable feat in itself, as the Abbe Sieyes felt about his own part in the French Revolution. The enemies of Diderot and D Alembert had been unable to eliminate or supplant them or essentially alter the character of their encyclopedia. They had not been forced to disown either their principles or their methodology. Moreover, the turmoil had given their work an invaluable amount of publicity, as Barbier, who remarked upon it in his diary, had the shrewdness to see. 81 Interest in the Encydopidic kept constantly mounting. The publishers had begun with plans for an edition of 1,625, which they presently increased to 2000. When Volume III was published, in November 1753, interest had been so greatly stimulated that an edition of 3100 was necessary, with further reprintings planned to bring the first three volumes and all those thereafter to an edition of 4200. 32 The impact of the EncydopSdie, both


THE ENCYCLOPEDIE RECONTINUED 1 69

numerically and in the nature of its ideas, was such that one of the great French critics, Ferdinand Brunetiere, said although he was consistently hostile to Diderot that it is the great affair of the time, the goal toward which everything preceding it was tending, the origin of everything that has followed it, and consequently the true center for any history of ideas in the eighteenth century/ 33

A minor circumstance during 1752 gave Diderot his opportunity for scoring a considerable victory in polemics, and for stating with great vigor the methodological premises upon which the Encyclopedic stood. A well- known Jansenist prelate, the Bishop of Auxerre, decided to publish a pastoral instruction condemning the thesis of the Abbe de Prades. This was piling Ossa on Pelion, for it might be supposed that the Sorbonne, the Bishop of Montauban, the Archbishop of Paris, and the Pope, all of whom had pronounced on the matter, were competent to dispose of it. None of these was a Jansenist, however, and doubtless the Bishop of Auxerre felt that it was incumbent upon some Jansenist to prove his zeal for Catholicity at this juncture. But this intervention was skillfully exploited by Diderot, whose reply took the opportunity of playing off Jesuits against Jansenists, pro nouncing a plague on both their houses, and drawing a sharp contrast be tween matters of faith and matters of scientific fact. Diderot wrote this adroit exercise in polemics in the name of the Abbe de Prades, who was at that time in Berlin preparing his own apology, which was to appear in two parts. Accordingly Diderot entitled his little changeling, which was on sale in Paris even before the Abbe de Prades had published his, the Suite de I Apologie de M. I 1 Abbe de Prades . . . Troisieme partie ( Continuation of the Apology of the Abbe de Prades . . . Third Part ). The little book, which purported to be printed in Berlin, appeared about 12 October 1752, and was followed in 1753 by another edition, a pirated one published in Amsterdam. 34

Problems of intellectual method were uppermost in Diderot s mind in writing this work, as is shown by the vigorous passage in which he defends reason against obscurantism: I know nothing so indecent and injurious to religion as these vague declamations against reason on the part of some theologians. One would say, to hear them, that men cannot enter into the bosom of Christianity except as a flock of beasts enters into a stable, and that one has to renounce common sense either to embrace our religion or to persist in it. To establish such principles, I repeat, is to reduce man to the level of the brute, and place falsehood and truth upon an equal footing. 3B


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

In the preface Diderot said right out that this third part is as much the defense of the "Preliminary Discourse" of the Encyclopedic, from which I [he is writing in the name of De Prades] drew my first position, as it is the defense of my thesis. 36 And he lengthily discussed the implications in science and theology of the old axiom, by this time very familiar to the readers of this book, nihil est in intdlectu quod non prius juerit in sensu. Diderot once more expounded the sensistic psychology that Locke and Condillac had developed. But this antithesis of the notion that human beings are born with innate ideas of God and morality was particularly suspect among French churchmen, as we have seen, because these new ideas of psychology were likely to get confusingly mixed up with orthodox ideas about man s soul. The Bishop of Auxerre put his finger on the precise issue when he complained of De Prades s thesis that the type of man discussed therein Is not at all the man whose creation is described for us in Genesis. 38 This was quite true. While the Bishop wanted to talk about Genesis, Diderot wanted to talk about man in nature, as he himself said, and then of the herd man (ks hommes en troupeau) and societal man (les hommes en sociftf)?* Thus we see Diderot trying to devise and apply concepts that are recognizable to us today as those fundamental to the social sciences. As a leading French social scientist has remarked, the principal effort of the Encyclopedists consisted in secularizing the social sciences. 40 That is ex actly what Diderot was trying to do here. But it was a point of view most upsetting to people who, when they said man, meant Adam.

Diderot s life is an episode in the long history of the scientific attitude s struggle against the constrictions of authoritarianism. What he and people like him have always hoped and believed is that the methods of free inquiry can reveal more of ultimate reality than can an unbending orthodoxy. Diderot expressed this hope in the terminology of a liberal theologian when he has the pseudo-De Prades declare, I have believed that the wing of a butterfly, well described, would bring me closer to Divinity than a volume of metaphysics. 41 In this sentence is the difference between fundamentalism and science, between W. J. Bryan and Clarence Darrow.

For persons of Diderot s cast of mind, the fate of Galileo was always the hobgoblin that haunted their imaginations and inhabited their fears. And consequently Diderot has De Prades distinguish between what was appro priate to theology and what to philosophy : Let us take care not to identify the truth of our religion and the divinity of our Scriptures with facts that have no relation to these subjects and which might be overturned by time and by experiments. . . . We damage both theology and philosophy if we


THE ENCYCLOPEDIE RECONTINUED IJI

take it into our heads to produce physicists in our [theological] schools and if philosophers begin to make theologians in their assemblies. 42

Thus Diderot took the opportunity inadvertently offered him by the maladroit Bishop of Auxerre to strike a blow for what the eighteenth century proudly and perhaps a little vaingloriously called enlightenment. In doing so, Diderot belabored the Bishop a little, as when he wrote that it seems to me that this prelate has pronounced very superficially about topics that, to tell the truth, he was not required to understand, but upon which he was much less required to speak, and infinitely less required to insult those who do understand them/ 43 This was a way of showing, as indeed was the purpose of the whole book, the pains and penalties awaiting those who attempted to overawe the partisans of the new learning. But this was, after all, a negative and defensive tactic. More important was the appeal to tolera tion, and the assertion that De Prades and people like him were being unjustly persecuted. Such was the burden of Diderot s peroration, which Buffon himself a famous connoisseur of literary style considered to be one of the most eloquent passages in the French language. 44 Similarly extravagant in its praise was the judgment of a journalist of the time who wrote that some of the passages in the Apology, especially the one at the end, would make one suppose that they had been written by a resuscitated Bossuet, a remark which, for a generation dazzled by the literary glories of the century of Louis XIV, was the highest possible praise. 45

Doubtless as he wrote the conclusion, Diderot was seeing himself in the figure he drew of the persecuted Abbe de Prades. There is a vein of the atricality in the philosophes (and in Diderot) which makes it a little dif ficult to take them quite so seriously as they took themselves. And a good deal of this sense of the dramatic and even of the self-righteous appears in Diderot s closing remarks. But there is persuasiveness and conviction in them, too, from an author who had had his share of perturbations and alarms:

... I have seen that the state of all these people [his critics] is beyond hope, and I have said, Therefore shall I forget them; such is the counsel both of my religion and of my self-interest. I shall devote myself without respite to the great work that I have undertaken; and I shall finish it, if the goodness of God allows me to do so, in a manner that some day will make all my persecutors ashamed. At the head of such a work my vindication will find its appropriate place; it is at the begin ning of a treatise on the truthfulness of religion that it will be fitting to place the story of the crying injustices that I have suffered, of the atrocious calumnies with which I have been blackened, of the odious names lavished against me, of the impious conspiracies by which I have been defamed, of all the evils of which I


172 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

have been accused, and of all those that have been done against me. There, then, will this story be found; and my enemies will be confounded; and the people of virtue will bless the Providence that took me by the hand, when my uncertain steps were faltering, and that brought me to this land where persecution shall not follow me. 46

Thus he concluded, in a pleasant incandescence of self-approval.


CHAPTER 14


Italian Opera and French Taste


D 1


DIDEROT was an extremely sociable man. He liked to oblige people. And he loved to talk. He spent so much time pouring forth his ideas to friends and acquaintances that it is remarkable that he ever found the opportunity to accumulate new stock. With Diderot communication was almost a compulsion. If absent from his mistress, he wrote her long letters; if left to his own devices, his works show that his thought patterns were set in a subtle dialectic of com munication with himself; and if with friends, even casual acquaintances, he lavished his ideas upon them in such profusion that Grimm, tidy German and shrewd entrepreneur that he was, would frequently deplore the non chalant outpouring of such dazzling gifts, much as a man who is part owner of an oil well might deplore the wastefulness of a gusher that has blown its top.

Moreover, Diderot delighted in thinking of himself as the very type and pattern of the Good-natured Man. 1 Consequently, he did not mind ex pending his time and his energies in behalf of those who had no real claim upon him. Nor did he really object to being imposed on, up to a certain point, for it fitted into his picture of himself as an affable, approachable, and generous person. This is illustrated by an anecdote that he told of himself as occurring at about this time in his life. Once upon a time I rescued from extreme poverty a young man of letters who was not without talent. I fed him, lodged him, kept him warm and in clothes, for several years. The very first flight of this talent which I had cultivated was a satire against me and mine. The publisher . . . suggested suppressing the work. I took care not to accept this ofler. The satire appeared. The author had the impudence to bring me the first copy of it himself. I contented myself with saying to him: "You are an ingrate. Anyone else than I would have thrown you out, but I am obliged to you for knowing me better than that. Take

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back your work and carry it to my enemies, to that old Due d Qrleans who lives on the other side of the street." I was living at that time in the Estrapade. The end of all this was that I wrote for him, I against my own self, a petition to the Due d Orleans, that the old fanatic gave him fifty louis, that the thing became known, and that the protector remained pretty ridiculous and the protected pretty vile/* 2

Diderot s extraversion did indeed carry with it the constant risk that he would dissipate his energies and allow himself to be distracted from more substantial accomplishment. It may be doubted, however, whether the profusion of Diderot s personality and ideas was really as wasted as Grimm feared. Among all of the philosophcs Diderot was chief. In the vocabulary of his friends, he was more than a philosophy, he was THE philosophe. He was the leader of a party or, as his enemies would put it, of a sect. And it was by conversation as much as it was by what he published that he spread his influence and made his leadership felt. Perhaps even more; for much of what he thought was too dangerous to publish and had to remain in his desk drawer to await the random honors of posthumous publication. But his ideas, orally expressed, emanated in pulsations from the social circles that he frequented out into that highly centralized society in which every thing focused upon Versailles and Paris, Add to this that Diderot was ex traordinarily gifted in the arts of oral persuasion (many of his friends thought that, given different political conditions in France, he would have been an orator of the very highest rank), and it can readily be seen that not all the time he spent in company was wasted.

The ideal milieu in which to gratify his social proclivities was provided Diderot by the Baron d Holbach, a man with whom Diderot became intimate about this time and who, like Grimm, was destined to remain a lifelong friend, D Holbach s house, with its fine library and its quite extraordinary collections of prints and natural history, and D Holbach s dinners attracted some of the greatest wits and intellects of his century. David Hume took Horace Walpole there in 1765, and the latter, recording the visit in his journal, spoke of D Holbach as *a good-natured German settled in France, who keeps a table for strangers, the beaux esprits of the country etc. 3 Horace Walpole s judgment of persons was apt to be a little reductive, so that Morellet s testimony is valuable in revealing what the opportunities at D Holbach s meant to persons of the philosophical persuasion:

  • The time, the street Diderot was living in, and the fact that he spoke of the publication as

being against me and mine" suggest that this may have been La Bigarure s account of the brawl between Mme Diderot and Mmc dc Puisieux.


ITALIAN OPERA AND FRENCH TASTE *75

Baron d Holbach served two dinners regularly each week, Sundays and Thurs days; there assembled then . . . ten, twelve and up to fifteen or twenty men of letters and men of the world or foreigners ... a society truly engaging, as could be realized by this symptom alone, that, being arrived at two o clock, as was the fashion at that time, we often were almost all of us still there at seven or eight in the evening.

Now, there was the place to hear the freest, most animated and most instructive conversation that ever was. . . . There was no moot point, political or religious, that was not advanced there and discussed pro and con, almost always with great subtlety and profundity.


It is there that I heard . . . Diderot treat questions of philosophy, art, or litera ture, and by his wealth of expression, fluency, and inspired appearance, hold our attention for a long stretch of time. 4

Paul Thiry, Baron d Holbach, later became the secret author of a long series of works which have qualified him in the eyes of posterity to be considered one of the paladins of atheism. Born in 1723, he was just ten years younger than Diderot. He was reared at Paris and educated at the University of Leyden, where he made friends with John Wilkes, the tempes tuous Englishman who in the 1760*5 became the hero of the resistance to general warrants (a sort of British counterpart of the French lettres de cachet) and who, in other ways as well, fell foul, like the Americans, of George Ill s attempts at personal rule. It was through D Holbach that Diderot twenty years later made the acquaintance of Wilkes, who had become by then one of the best-known, not to say most notorious, men in Europe. 5

D Holbach settled down in Paris following the War of the Austrian Suc cession, became naturalized in 1749, and married, in decorous succession, two sisters, his second cousins. 6 These matches gave every indication of being for love, but they also served to keep the considerable family fortune under one roof, so that D Holbach never had to worry, nor did any of his philosophical friends, where the next meal was coming from. That roof, still standing at Number 8, Rue des Moulins, covers a substantial five-storey building (six, counting the entresol) with its own court and porte-cochere. 7 In Diderot s day it was located in an area of tortuous and tangled streets which has since been much simplified by building the Avenue de 1 Opera. Another acquaintance of Diderot, Helvetius, lived hard by. It is difficult to say when Diderot first knew D Holbach but it must have been at least


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


some months before 1752, to judge from the latter s numerous contributions to Volume II of the Encyclopedic. 8 There is direct evidence of their con nection by October of that year, for a French writer returning from Berlin mentioned meeting Diderot at the home of Mme d Aine, D Holbach s mother-in-law. 9

Diderot and D Holbach had a great deal in common, not only intellectually but also in matters of preference and taste. For instance, they both liked to overeat, they liked a walk in the country, they liked to possess fine prints and beautiful paintings, and they liked comfort. Also, without being pro miscuous, they were both heartily heterosexual. In matters of philosophy and religion, they were in substantial agreement, although Diderot s doctrine is much more elusive, ambiguous, and therefore closer to life than D Hol bach s. Diderot s philosophy, hard to be sure of, has a great deal of poetic insight, and should properly be called godless rather than atheistic (to use a distinction frequently employed to discuss one aspect of the existentialism of Sartre). But there never was any question that the D Holbach whom posterity knows was solidly and ponderously atheistic.

Oddly enough, there is testimony, although not of impeccable quality, that Diderot converted D Holbach to atheism. The evidence comes from a book by a politician and man of letters named Garat, who in his younger days knew both men and was especially friendly with a member of their circle named Suard. Suard knew Diderot and D Holbach at this early time and is the source of the following story: Having long been an adorer of God, Whom he [D Holbach] saw in the order and laws of the universe, he had a missionary s zeal in regard to those whom he liked and who did not have the same belief. He pursued the incredulity of Diderot even into those workshops where the editor of the encyclopedia, surrounded by ma chines and workers, was taking sketches of all the manual arts; and draw ing his text from these very machines ... he asked him if he could doubt that they had been conceived and built by an intelligence. The application was a striking one, but it did not, however, strike either the mind or heart of Diderot. Diderot s friend, bursting into tears, fell at his feet. It has been said of Saint Paul, thrown from the horse upon which he was pursuing the Christians: Falls a persecutor, and gets up an apostle. It was quite the con trary that occurred in this instance: he who fell on his knees a deist, got up an atheist. 10 There may indeed be something to this story, for as late as 1756 the cure of Saint-Germain-PAuxerrois in Paris enthusiastically vouched for D Holbach as making profession of the Catholic, apostolic and Roman faith, the duties of which he fulfills with edification. n


ITALIAN OPERA AND FRENCH TASTE 177

However this may be, it is incontestable that Diderot and D Holbach had innumerable intellectual interests in common, interests which might quite literally be called encyclopedic. Marmontel wrote of D Holbach that he had read everything and never forgotten anything of interest/ and Rous seau spoke of him as maintaining his position among men of letters very adequately, owing to his knowledge and learning. 12 This passion for knowl edge, especially in the fields of mineralogy and metallurgy where a mastery of German was essential, was extremely useful to the Encyclopedic and was acknowledged lengthily in the foreword to Volume II.

The consonant tastes of Diderot and D Holbach were particularly re vealed in this period 1752-4 by their taking the same side in an embittered debate over the comparative merits of the French and the Italian opera. On i August 1752, a visiting Italian company came to the French Opera, then holding forth where the Palais Royal is today, and made their debut by singing Pergolesi s opera bouffe, La Serva padrona. This company continued to give their repertory at the Opera, singing once, twice, or sometimes three times a week until their final performance on 7 March I754- 13 All of their thirteen pieces were short and consequently given either as curtain raisers or as concluding pieces with another work. The other attraction was always a piece from the regular French repertory, given by the regular company, so Parisian audiences had an excellent opportunity to make comparisons.

During a year that had already been enlivened by the Abbe de Prades affair and the suspension of the Encyclopedic, and that also saw tension heightening between the King and the Parlement of Paris caused by a very grave quarrel as to whether dying Jansenists could be denied the last rites if they refused to subscribe to the bull Unigenitu$ & disagreement which ended with the exiling of the Parlement to a provincial town in 1753 and the temporary suspension of their functions in addition to all this, there began the quarrel of the buffoons, in which the Encyclopedists found com mon and exciting cause. The enthusiasts for the new Italian genre tended to congregate in that part of the pit at the Opera that was near the royal box assigned to the Queen. Consequently Queen s Corner 5 came to be the name for the aficionados of the Italian opera, while King s Corner de nominated the partisans of the French.

In D Holbach s circle Jean-Jacques Rousseau had extolled the beauties of the Italian opera, of which he had had firsthand experience at Venice. Rousseau s friends could now judge for themselves, and what they heard charmed them utterly and seemed infinitely superior to the formalism and intellectualism of the conventional French opera which Lully (1632-87)


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


had created. They found the Italian opera richer and more varied in musical devices, more melodious, more capable o building emotional mood, more adroit in suiting the music to the phonetics and meaning o the words. In contrast, French operatic music seemed stiff and monotonous, with long, boresome recitatives, and too much emphasis on harmony at the expense of melody. This last, they thought, was an inherent difficulty of the French language, which caused singers to bawl rather than sing. Although the French opera was excellent as a spectacle, it left much to be desired from the point of view of music. As the great Italian playwright Goldoni said of it, it was heaven for the eyes, hell for the ears. 14 The French partisans of such pieces as La Serva fadrona and Pergolesi s other comic opera heard in Paris at that time, // Maestro di musica, were quite in agreement with this sentiment, and Rousseau wound up his Lettre sur la musique jrangaise by declaring, after a good deal of hyperbole, that the French have no music and cannot have any, or ... if ever they do have any, it will be so much the worse for them.* 15

During the quarrel of the buffoons, tempers reached an unbelievable pitch. Rousseau and Grimm, for example, were convinced that the former narrowly escaped arrest by lettre de cachet because of his Lettre sur la musique jranqaise Practically all of the Encyclopedists participated in the pamphlet war especially Rousseau, Grimm, D Holbach, and Diderot and, characteristically enough, they all espoused the Italian side. They were never afraid of novelty, although their attitude was regarded by many of their enemies as practically a national betrayal. On the whole, wit was on their side, apoplexy on that of their opponents. The most effective pamphlet, and one still very amusing to read, was written by Grimm. This was Le Petit Profhete de Boehmischbroda, done in Scriptural language in an earnest, solemn, and deliciously naive style. Even the outlandish place name of Boehmischbroda was funny. The Little Prophet, a famished mu sician in a Prague garret, was magically transported to the Paris Opera, and what he saw and heard there, although he accepted it at its face value, would not, in the language of eighteenth-century English pamphleteering, bear examination. 17 This pamphlet deservedly established Grimm s reputa tion as a wit, and in the years to follow, Diderot s favorite and familiar epithet for him was prophet. Diderot himself, whom Romain Rolland credited with a very exact knowledge of music, also entered the lists. 18 In his Memoirs on Different Subjects of Mathematics he had already proved his competence in musical theory from the point of view of mathematics and physics, and it will be remembered that he probably assisted Rameau in preparing some of his works for publication. Now, in early 1753, Diderot


ITALIAN OPERA AND FRENCH TASTE 179

contributed three anonymous pamphlets to the controversy. They were en- tided Arret rendu a I amphitheatre de V Opera ( Judgment Rendered at the Opera Amphitheatre ), Au Petit Prophete de Boehmischbroda ( To the Little Prophet of Boehmischbroda ), and Les Trois Chapitres, ou La Vision de la nuit du mardi-gras au mercredi des cendres ( The Three Chapters, or, The Vision of the Night from Shrove Tuesday to Ash Wednesday ). 19 These pamphlets, though entertaining enough, are topical and ephemeral, and need not greatly detain a twentieth-century reader. What is perhaps most noteworthy about them is their air of moderation and conciliation. If, from the center of the pit, whence I raise my voice, I were fortunate enough to be heard by both the "Corners" . . . , he wrote a statement which gives the impression that perhaps he was seeking to avoid making irreconcilable enemies of Rameau, who was after all a great contemporary composer, and his partisans. 20

Of course Diderot in reality favored the Queen s Corner. Already in UOiseau blanc (1748) he had spoken briefly, but in praise, of Italian music. 21 At about this time Grimm reports it in August 1753 Diderot amused himself by composing a Latin motto to be painted (naturally it was not) on the curtain of the Opera. The inscription clearly shows what he thought of the French opera of his day, but it is so laconic and lapidary that an ex planation dilutes its humor: Hie Marsyas Apollinem?* This refers to the myth that Apollo, the god of song, flayed alive a very presumptuous and un-immortal mortal named Marsyas for presuming to challenge him to a singing contest. The piquancy of Diderot s motto is that it has no verb and therefore the nominative and accusative cases of the proper names carry all the meaning, which runs something like this: Here Marsyas [takes the hide off] Apollo/

From the point of view of the Encyclopedic, the quarrel of the buffoons, although it served to unite the brethren in a common cause, presented an awkward contingency: it could cause trouble with Rameau. D Alembert, as well as Diderot, had been on very friendly terms with him in earlier years. Moreover, Rameau had been asked to do the articles on music for the Encyclopedic but had refused, although he offered to look over and criticize the articles when prepared by someone else. 23 In consequence, the assignment was given to Rousseau, whose pieces, according to a modern critic, offered a faithful if somewhat jumbled and at times inept picture of Rameau s discoveries. 24 Rousseau himself acknowledged his poor work manship, saying that Diderot had wanted him to get them done in three months, and that he did so, but very hastily and very badly. 25 Paren thetically, we may very well wonder why Editor Diderot did not see to


o DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

100

it that the articles were improved, either by insisting that Rousseau revise them or by submitting them to Rameau for criticism. Perhaps he did not because Rousseau was so touchy as to render either alternative impractical, a hypothesis suggested by Rameau s remark that your Foreword makes sufficiently evident the reason that prevented you: it is better not to give offense to one s colleagues than to the public. 26 Perhaps, too, Diderot and D Alembert, not subscribing to all of Rameau s ideas, did not want to make the Encyclopedic a vehicle for them. 27

At all events, the stand taken by the Encyclopedists in the quarrel of the buffoons made the Encyclopedic vulnerable, for their decided preference for Italian music might irritate Rameau into publicly remarking about some of the insufficiencies of the Encyclopedic articles on music. Evidently it was not the intention of the Encyclopedists to stir him up. Most of them spe cifically excepted him from their strictures regarding Lully and the school of French opera in general, and Diderot praised Rameau in the Arret rendu h I amphithtdtre de I Optra?* He was taken as the exception proving the rule. But how could the tradition of French operatic music be attacked with out including in the censure the greatest living practitioner of it? So, at least, Rameau appears to have thought, and in a series of little books he presently began to show the deficiencies of Rousseau s unfortunate articles. In 1755 he published Erreurs sur la musique dans VEncy dope die, in 1756 Suite des erreurs sur la musique dans l f Encyclopedic, and in 1757 Reponse de M. Rameau a MM. les editeurs de I Ency clop t die. This sort of controversy did not help the Encyclopedic. It was probably no exaggeration when a journal hostile to the Encyclopedic remarked that Rameau s brochures made a great sensation among the public. 29 Diderot s irritation is attested by his unflattering description of Rameau in Rameau s Nephew, a dialogue that was not intended for publication in Diderot s lifetime but that still served (perhaps all the more) as an outlet for emotional release.

Rousseau, not content to lecture the French public by precept, under took at this time to teach it by example. The result was his extremely suc cessful operetta, Le Devin du Village ( The Village Soothsayer ), for which he wrote both words and music. In October 1752 the operetta was given before the King at Fontainebleau, a circumstance which indirectly led to the first open disagreement between Diderot and Rousseau. Jean-Jacques had been invited to meet the King the day following the showing, an inter view that would have been almost certainly followed by the granting of a much needed pension. But for a number of reasons Rousseau returned to Paris instead, a decision which Diderot disapproved of so heartily that he


ITALIAN OPERA AND FRENCH TASTE l8l

sought out Rousseau to tell him so. Although I was moved by his zeal/ wrote Rousseau, I could not subscribe to his maxims, and we had a very spirited dispute, the first that I had ever had with him; and we never have had any other save of this kind, he prescribing to me what he contended I ought to do, and I resisting because I believed I ought not to do it. 5 30

It is possible that Diderot came to feel subconsciously that in the quarrel of the buffoons Rousseau had carried them too far. This is, however, com pletely conjectural. It is true, though, that tensions were already beginning to develop between Rousseau and the other Encyclopedists. He was inclined to think that it was because they were jealous of the success of Le Devin du Village, but Rousseau was a suspicious and highly imaginative man, and it is by no means certain that his fellow Encyclopedists were jealous of him. As Mme de Stael, writing about Rousseau ten years after his death, said of him, Sometimes he would leave you still loving you; but if you had said a single word that could displease him, he recalled it, examined it, exaggerated it, thought about it for a week, and ended up by quarreling with you. . . . 31 But even if the other Encyclopedists were jealous of him, the emotional and intellectual causes of the eventual disruption were much subtler and deeper. It is quite surprising that the philosophes had not al ready realized how litde of a philosofhe Rousseau was. He did not have the faith that they did in the march of knowledge, in progress, and in reason. For years, apparendy, they regarded his diatribe against the arts and sci ences as more of a paradox than a conviction, failing to understand how deeply committed he was to this outlook on life. Rousseau believed in progress, too, but it was a progress that consisted in getting back to the uncomplicated and the undifferentiated, to the spirit of the simplicity and primitivism of a state of nature. This was not the point of view of men who believed in progress, as the Encyclopedists did, in terms of ever increasing knowledge, ever increasing technology, ever increasing understanding and domination of nature.

In fact, the signs of eventual disagreement could plainly be read in the disobliging way in which Rousseau spoke of philosophy* in the preface that he wrote to his unsuccessful comedy, Narcisse. This preface was written in December 1752 and published sometime in the first half of the following year, and could hardly please people who prided themselves on being called philosophers, for it discredited the very name. The taste for philosophy/ wrote Rousseau, relaxes all the bonds of esteem and benevolence that attach men to society. . . . Soon the philosopher concentrates in his person all the interest that virtuous men share with their fellow men: his disdain for others


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turns to the profit of his own pride; his self-love increases in the same ratio as his indifference for the rest of the universe. Family, fatherland, become for him words empty of meaning; he is neither a parent, nor a citizen, nor a man; he is a philosopher. ** These are strong and, indeed, quarrelsome words. Yet the philosophy were content to ignore them.

An incident on Shrove Sunday, 3 February i 75 4> in which both Diderot and Rousseau figured, gives some measure of Rousseau s growing irritation and malaise in his Encyclopedist associations. Superficially, the incident would seem to be no more than a disagreement over whether or not a certain situation was funny. But frequently like and unlike can be measured by what seems amusing to the one and deplorable to the other. What happened was this. In the summer of 1753 while walking in the Luxembourg Gardens, Diderot was introduced to a young cure* from a small parish in Normandy, the Abbe Petit. He expressed delight at meeting the philosophe, for the Abbe wanted Diderot s comments on an original madrigal, seven hundred verses long. Diderot paled and told the Abbe" that he ought to write tragedies and not waste his time on madrigals. Termit me, then, to say to you that I won t listen to a single verse of yours before you bring us a tragedy. Some months later the Abbe showed up with his tragedy, and Diderot arranged for him to read it at D Holbach s. 33 The tragedy, D Holbach later recalled, was preceded by a discourse on theatrical composition so absurd that his listeners could not take him seriously. 1 will confess that, half-laughingly, half-soberly, I myself strung the poor cure along. Jean-Jacques hadn t said a word, hadn t smiled an instant, hadn t moved from his armchair. Sud denly he rose up like a madman and, springing towards the cure, took his manuscript, threw it on the floor, and cried to the appalled author, "Your play is worthless, your dissertation an absurdity, all these gentlemen are making fun of you. Leave here, and go back to do curate s duty in your village. . . ." Then the cure got up, no less furious, spewed forth all imaginable insults against his too sincere adviser, and from insults would have passed to blows and to tragic murder if we had not separated them. Rousseau left in a rage, which I believed to be temporary, but which has never ceased and which has done nothing but increase since that time.* 34

This lively picture of Diderot and Rousseau in the company of their peers is complemented by another recollection of about this time, this one by the Abbe Morellet. It shows Diderot in his dressing gown in the privacy of his own home talking to men much his junior. The Abbe Morellet was twenty-five years old at the time and a theological student. His recollections of Diderot agree with those of almost everyone else who knew him well


ITALIAN OPERA AND FRENCH TASTE 183

easy of access, generous of his time, full of ideas, and vivacious in the expres sion of them, sociable perhaps to a fault, and eager to persuade others to his line of thought:

The conversation of Diderot, an extraordinary man whose talent can no more be in dispute than his faults, had great ability and great charm. His discourse was animated, carried on in perfect good faith, subtle without being obscure, varied in form, brilliantly imaginative, fecund in ideas, and awakening ideas in others. One allowed oneself to be carried away by it for hours on end, as upon a gentle and limpid stream flowing through a rich countryside ornamented with fine habita tions.

I have experienced few pleasures of the mind to surpass it, and I shall always remember it.


. . . there never was a man more easy to live with, more indulgent than Diderot. He lent, and even gave, wit to others. He had in mind the desire to gain proselytes, not precisely to atheism, but to philosophy and reason. It is true that if religion and God Himself chanced to be in his path, he would not have known how to stop or turn aside; but I have never observed that he put any heat into instilling opin ions of this sort. He defended them without any acrimony, and without looking unfavorably upon those who did not share them.

. . . The recollection of my Sunday meetings with Diderot leads me to speak of an abbe whom I sometimes met at his house, the Abbe d Argenteuil. . . . He took it into his head to convert Diderot, and, inspired by a fine zeal, came to preach to him at the Estrapade. . . .

I shall always remember our mutual embarrassment the first time we encoun tered each other, and the excellent scene we provided Diderot, who saw us in his study as two shamefaced libertines meeting face to face in a house of ill repute. But after the first peals of laughter, we began to dispute. And there were the Abbe d Argenteuil and I, carried on by the march of the conversation and enter ing into questions regarding toleration, while the philosopher, seeing the wran gling begun, put his hands into the sleeves of his dressing gown and made him self judge of the thrusts. 35

Other glimpses into Diderot s private life at this time are afforded us. For one thing, we know that the family income had become greater. Beginning with 1751 the publishers paid Diderot five hundred livres quarterly. This was still far from being princely. There can be no doubt that the publishers purchased the services of a man of Diderot s ability at a very modest rate, and that they really did exploit him. Still, money was easier than it had previously been in the Diderot household, and this rate of payment con tinued until the beginning of I755- 36 Of more than a little interest is the fact


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 104

that in 1752 Mme Diderot visited her relatives-in-law at Langres for die first time. To judge as best we can from a letter to Mme Caroillon La Salette, now almost illegible, Diderot had hopes that she could do something to soften the intractability of Mme Diderot s character. 37 At all events, the visit terminated in mutual liking and esteem. And in the early weeks of I7 Diderot, with his usual eagerness to do a friend a favor, moved heaven and earth in behalf of a fellow-townsman of Langres. Nicolas Caroillon, son-in-law of Pierre La Salette, wanted to be designated as the successor of his father-in-law in the lucrative post of bonded tobacco warehouseman in Langres. The episode has more than one facet of biographical interest. In the first place, some faint stirrings of an old sentimental attachment may have inspired Diderot, for Caroillon s wife, nte La Salette, may have been one of his first calf-loves. 38 Secondly, by Ms assistance in this instance, Diderot put into his debt a family that eventually was to be linked to his by marriage. Thirdly, and most of all, the incident shows his eagerness to be obliging. As his daughter wrote of him, three-fourths of his life was spent in aiding all those who had need of his purse, his talents, or his negotiations. 39 And with this desire to be helpful was compounded a certain gratification at being able to show off Ms prominent and influential connections.

Getting the position for Caroillon was an animated and complicated in trigue, involving some methods that one would like to think disappeared with the ancien regime. The mistress of the Controller General was promised two hundred louis, but it took another fifty before the matter was pressed to a successful conclusion; the private secretaries of the Controller General were friendly to Diderot and willing to attempt to secure for him an ap pointment with the minister; Buffon, who is very fond of me, wrote a supporting letter; and the Controller General himself, Machault d Arnouville, unexpectedly consented to see him. I believe, 1 wrote Diderot complacently, I owed this favor somewhat to his curiosity to see a man who had made

such a stir. *

Having thus tried to accomplish his purpose through the Controller Gen eral, Diderot also undertook to secure the support of the King s mistress. This he attempted to do through a personal friend, one of the celebrated names of the eighteenth century, a man who was Mme de Pompadour s official physician. This was Francois Quesnay (1694-1774), the founder of the physiocratic school of economic theory. Diderot was greatly influenced during the 1750*5 and the early 1760 $ by Quesnay s views, and opened the columns of die Encyclopedic to Quesnay s lengthy and substantial articles on Farmers (Fermiers) and Grain. 41 These articles afforded an excellent


ITALIAN OPERA AND FRENCH TASTE 185

means for the diffusion of physiocratic ideas. Quesnay was very critical of the existing French national economy and the laws regulating it, for he felt that they put a premium on the production of luxury goods and the growth of cities at the price of impoverishing and depopulating the country side. 42 It is easy to see how much influence Quesnay s thought exerted upon Adam Smith, for both men were seeking to understand the causes of the wealth of nations, and both the older man more by implication preached the virtues of increasing the net national product by allowing matters to proceed not by mercantilistic regulation but by the grace of the invisible hand. It is therefore true to say, as has often been done, that Diderot s friend Quesnay was one of the fathers of the science of political economy.

Quesnay, according to Marmontel, was lodged in very cramped quarters in the entresol above Mme de Pompadour, [and] occupied himself from morning to night with nothing but rural economy/ In a passage that is intensely interesting but unfortunately uncorroborated by any other memoir writer of the day, Marmontel went on: Below us they were deliberating concerning war and peace, the choice of generals, the dismissal of ministers, while we, in the entresol, argued about agriculture, calculated the net product, or sometimes dined gaily with Diderot, D Alembert, Duclos, Helvetius, Turgot, Buffon; and Mme de Pompadour, not being able to induce this troop of philosophers to come down to her salon, came up herself to see them at table and chat with them. 43

For the purpose of getting the Langres appointment for his friend Caroil- lon, Diderot presented a memorandum to Mme de Pompadour through the good offices of Quesnay, received word from her through the same channel, and then wrote to her directly. The upshot of it all was that Caroillon got his appointment and Diderot, who evidently was not quite as convinced of Caroillon s transcendent qualifications for the post as he said he was, wrote him a page of good advice upon the scrupulous fulfillment of his official duties. 44

It is interesting, incidentally, that Diderot kept his wife informed of the vicissitudes of this solicitation, showing that he did not always exclude her from his affairs. 45 Meanwhile, Mme Diderot had news of her own during this year, for Diderot remarked to the Caroillons in February that his wife had been very ill with morning sickness. 46 Childless Mme Diderot was forty-three years old at the time of this latest pregnancy, for which she had prayed many years. My mother took a vow to dress in white the next child to be born to her and consecrate it to the Holy Virgin and Saint Francis [a custom which, though it has become comparatively uncommon in France,


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


is not unheard of to this day]. Nothing could get it out o her head that I owe my existence to this vow/ 47 Marie-Angelique Diderot, Angelique after her paternal grandmother, was born in the house on the Rue de 1 Estrapade on 2 September 1753, and baptized at the parish church of SaintJBtienne- du-Mont the next day. The child s godparents, persons not otherwise known to posterity, declared themselves unable to sign their own names. 48 Now, for the fourth time, there was a baby in the house. This one was destined to a long life.


CHAPTER 15


Diderot s Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature


NE OF the ways in which the philosophe Diderot proved himself a philosopher was in his con tributions to the philosophy of science. Evidence of this is especially to be found in a booklet written while he was engaged in the preparation of Vol ume III of the Encyclopedic. This essay one of his most important and least read was the Pensees sur I interpretation de la nature ( Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature ). An extremely rare edition of the Pensees, al most a pilot copy, was printed in I753- 1 The two editions published in 1754 are more ample and better known. The work, though anonymous, was au thorized. D Hemery noted in his journal that the Pensees, attributed to Diderot, had been published with tacit permission, another interesting and representative example of Malesherbes policy of keeping the press as free as he could. 2

The Pensees sur I interpretation de la nature is a short book devoted to taking stock of some of the current implications of the scientific method and was intended to be a handbook for the philosophy, the new learning, of the day. The somewhat solemn exordium addressed To Young People Preparing Themselves for the Study of Natural Philosophy/ which set Diderot s enemies laughing scornfully, reflects the seriousness of the author s purpose/Tfoung man, take and read, it began. The pages that followed opened up new points of view, sometimes by positive statements, sometimes by asking questions, sometimes by stating what Diderot labeled conjectures. It was a book that suggested many of the most important problems in the philosophy of science, a tentative book sending out patrols along the frontiers of knowledge. And to at least one modern critic, comparing it with Descartes, Diderot s little book seems to be the Discourse on Method of the eighteenth

century. 3

It might, however, be more accurate to say that the book was the Novum

187


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


Organum of the eighteenth century. For the Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature was more Baconian than any other of Diderot s writings. Both in structure and in approach Diderot modeled his book on Bacon, whom he had been carefully studying for ten years according to the testimony of one of his friends. 4 For instance, the tides of the two books were significantly similar; the Novum Organum is subtitled True Directions concerning the Interpretation of Nature. 5 Moreover, the arrangement of the two books in a series of disjunctive paragraphs or aphorisms, as Bacon called them, is exactly alike. And Diderot possibly was influenced by other writings of Bacon. The prayer at the end of the Thoughts may have been inspired by Bacon s invocation of God in his Proemium in The Great Instauration ; Diderot s adjuration to young men, take and read, is like Bacon s appeal Ad Filios. 5 Critics of Diderot s book, therefore, could have spared them selves a number of irrelevant remarks had they realized that Diderot was consciously making himself a transmitter of the form and content of the Baconian philosophy of science. Diderot, in turn, could have made it easier for everyone had he explicitly acknowledged this. But perhaps he was skittish after his recent experience with the Journal de Trevoux, which had referred maliciously to Bacon s influence on the prospectus of the Encyclopedic.

In a thoughtful commentary on his friend s work, Grimm noted the parallels between Diderot and Bacon: There is the same depth, the same breadth, the same abundance of ideas and points of view, the same luminosity and sublimity of imagination, the same penetration, the same sagacity, and sometimes, for their contemporaries, the same obscurity, especially for those with weak sight. 6 And he might have added that they were similar, too, in the striking aptness, variety, and vigor of their imagery. A more modern and less prejudiced critic has confirmed Grimm s high opinion: both Diderot and Bacon, writes Professor Dieckmann, were endowed with prodigious scientific imagination, in which the gift of exact observation and of realistic vision, the scientific spirit and the spirit of speculation, are strangely blended. T

The influence of Bacon is to be seen particularly in those portions of Diderot s book that deal with methodological problems, as well as with descriptions or analyses of what should be the attitude of the scientific mind. Bacon, not as interested as Diderot in zoology, had no direct influence on the part of Interpretation de l& nature that speculates, for example, about the origin and differentiation of species, as well as other problems posed by the rapidly emerging biological sciences. 8 But as regards general scientific method, Bacon insisted upon certain attitudes and predispositions that Diderot


DIDEROT S THOUGHTS ON THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE 189

in his generation also stood for, and that science has learned are indispensable prerequisites for progress. The spirit of Bacon was the spirit of observation and experimentation. What, it asked, are the facts? And this solicitude for the facts was accompanied by a correlative de-emphasis on the preconceived and the a priori. Thus Bacon inveighed against the kind of scholasticism that contents itself with reading books about nature and trying to discover all about her through the use of syllogisms. This scholasticism is easy for any age to fall into, so that Diderot in his century, like Bacon in his, wrote of the necessity of having knowledge of things. The abstract sciences, wrote Diderot, have occupied our best minds too long and with too little fruit. Either that which is important to know has not been studied, or no dis crimination, insight, or method has been put into one s studies. Words have been multiplied endlessly, and the knowledge of things has remained in


arrears/ 9


By this emphasis on the knowledge of things, Diderot was implying that objects existing outside the mind do partake of objective reality. Wisdom therefore lies in the direction of attempting to link human intelligence with objective reality. This is, of course, the typical answer given by modern science to the problem of reality, the problem of being, and the problem of knowledge, namely that external objects are real and that human intel ligence can know reality, at least in adumbration, by the study of them. There are many other answers that can be made to these ancient philosophical problems that the external world has no reality but is simply illusion, or that it has reality but the human mind cannot know it, or that the human mind can find reality in terms simply and merely of itself, without relating mental processes to external objects. As Diderot remarked, unfortunately it is easier and shorter to consult oneself than it is to consult nature. Thus the reason is inclined to dwell within itself/ Diderot believed it essential to link the understanding with outer reality, and he remarked in his Inter pretation de la nature: As long as things are only in our understanding, they are our opinions; they are notions, which may be true or false, agreed upon or contradicted. They take on consistency only by being linked to externally existing things. This linking takes place either by means of an uninter rupted chain of experiments or by an uninterrupted chain of reasoning that is fastened at one end to observation and at the other to experiment; or by a chain of experiments, dispersed at intervals between the reasoning, like weights along the length of a thread suspended by its two ends. Without these weights the thread would become the plaything of the slightest agitation occurring in the air/ 10


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 190

According to Diderot, the interpretation of nature can be accomplished only by the reciprocal interaction in the mind of the scientist of sense impres sion and reflection. He expressed this idea in a much-admired image of the bee leaving the hive and returning to it, an image probably derived from Bacon: Men have difficulty in realizing how rigorous are the laws for the investigation of truth and how limited is the number of our instru mentalities. It all reduces itself to going from the senses to reflection and back again from reflection to the senses: ceaselessly to turn inward upon one s self and to turn outward again. This is the work of the bee: she has covered a great deal of territory in vain if she does not come back to the hive laden with wax. But she has made a lot of useless piles of wax if she does not know how to make a honeycomb out of them. X1

Greatly as Diderot counted upon the benefits arising from the advancement of learning, he did not suppose that advancement to be easy. On the con trary, he knew it to be very difficult. It is held back, for one reason, by human fallibility; for another, by the rarity of great scientific minds. As to the first, he wrote that the understanding has its prejudices, the senses their incertitude, the memory its limits, the imagination its glimmerings, instru ments their imperfections. Phenomena are infinite, causes are hidden, forms are perhaps transitory. Against so many obstacles, both those inside our selves and those outside presented by nature, we have only slow experimenta tion, only circumscribed reflection. Such are the levers with which philosophy proposes to move the world. 3 12 Diderot realized that men capable of manipu lating these levers are rare. Being a man of great imagination himself, he knew how necessary imagination and creativeness are to the discovery of nature s ways. In a passage that describes a man like Louis Pasteur or Robert Koch to a tittle, a passage which has been hailed as one of the most interesting eighteenth-century attempts to state the problem of genius and define what genius is, Diderot wrote: We have three principal means: observation of nature, reflection, and experiment. Observation gathers the facts, reflection combines them, experiment verifies the result of the com bination. It is essential that the observation of nature be assiduous, that re flection be profound, and that experimentation be exact. Rarely does one see these abilities in combination. And so, creative geniuses are not com mon. 13 Such a passage makes it clear that Diderot, in thinking about nature, did not content himself with mere empiricism, that is to say with the endless accumulation of facts, but insisted on the fecundating nature of hypotheses, even incorrect ones. Never is the time spent in interrogating nature entirely lost/ he wrote. An important part of his little book arises


DIDEROT S THOUGHTS ON THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE IQI

from his understanding of the reciprocal character, of the organic relation ship, in the mind of a scientist between his empirical tendencies and his non-empirical intuitions. 14

^Implicit in the Interpretation de la nature are two attitudes very char- acteristic l/ of the point of view of the whole eighteenth century. One of these attitudes is the distrust of elaborate and comprehensive philosophical sys tems. It is quite true that Diderot s aphorisms, like Bacon s, were disjunctive and disconnected, but this was intentional. 15 The eighteenth century dis trusted the great philosophical summae which, like that of Saint Thomas Aquinas in the age of scholasticism or like those of Descartes and Male- branche and even Leibniz in the seventeenth century, fitted facts into a pattern only too often preconceived. D Alembert remarked in his Pre liminary Discourse that the taste for systems, a taste more appropriate for flattering the imagination than for enlightening the reason, is today almost completely banished from sound treatises, and he gives the credit for it to Condillac who, by publishing his Traite des systemes in 1749, had, said D Alembert, dealt the taste for systems its decisive blows. 16 The eagerness for analysis rather than systematizing and the dislike of revealed authority (with the equal dislike of a priori assumptions that had a way of hardening into something closely resembling revealed authority) caused Diderot to distrust the symmetry and consistency of an elaborate intellectual system that more often than not ignored essential facts. As he wrote in the Ency clopedic article Philosophic, the systematic spirit is no less injurious to the progress of truth. By systematic spirit I do not mean that which links truths one to the other in order to form demonstrations, for this is nothing but the true philosophical spirit, but I have in mind that spirit that builds plans, and forms systems, of the universe to which it consequently desires to adjust phenomena willy-nilly. 17

rThe other respect in which Diderot partook of the general attitude of the eighteenth century his influence was so considerable that by accepting the attitude he reinforced it was to regard reason more as an instru mentality than a thing in itself. Since the eighteenth century plumed itself on being the Age of Reason, we may well inquire what that century meant by the word. The seventeenth century, with its rationalistic philosophies such as Descartes , based on the proposition Cogito, ergo sum could be called an age of reason, too but in a very different sense. An important semantic change had occurred. Whereas in the seventeenth century reason had meant the possession of a number of innate and transcendent ideas, much like the highest category of knowledge or reason described by Plato


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


in The Republic, the eighteenth century regarded reason as a sort of energy, a force, a means by which to do something. It was not so much an essence as it .was a process. What the eighteenth century thought reason to be was admirably and authoritatively expressed by the late Ernst Cassirer: To it reason was no longer an essence of innate ideas, granted anterior to experi ence, by which the absolute being of things is disclosed to us. Reason is much less a possession than it is a mode of acquisition. Reason is not the area, not the treasury of the mind, in which truth, like a minted coin, lies protected. Reason is rather the principal and original force of the mind, which impels to the discovery of truth and to the defining and assuring of it. 18 The whole eighteenth century, he said, conceived of reason in this sense.

In the Interpretation de la nature Diderot proved himself familiar with the scientific discoveries and investigations going on in his day. They, in turn, suggested to him the paragraphs of conjectures which are an enumera tion of many promising experiments that had occurred to him as remaining to be done. 19 For example, proceeding from his knowledge of Benjamin Franklin s discoveries, which had been published in 1751 and in French translation the following year, he conjectured that there was a close relation between electricity and magnetism. 20 Diderot, however, was more of a philosopher of science than a scientist, more given to suggesting with quite extraordinary flair and insight what could be done than to doing it himself. And so he only glimpsed the promised land, staying the while in the wilder ness with the Encyclopidie. But he had the imagination to know what should be done and yet how difficult it was: Open Franklin s book; leaf through the books of the chemists, and you will see what the art of experi ment demands in insight, imagination, sagacity, and resourcefulness ; and he speaks of the divination that skilled experimenters acquire by which they smell out the word he uses is subodorer unknown procedures, new experiments, and results previously neglected. 21

Diderot had caught the scent of a great change that was coming over the sciences in his century the change in subject matter from pure mathe matics to the natural sciences and the altered intellectual outlook that this involved. We are verging upon a great revolution in the sciences, he wrote. To judge from the bent that it seems to me minds are showing for ethics, belles-lettres, natural history, and experimental physics, I would almost venture to say that in less than a hundred years there will not be three great geometricians [this is the eighteenth-century word for what we now call a researcher in pure mathematics] in Europe. This science will come to a full stop at the point where the Bernoullis, the Eulers, Maupertuis,


DIDEROT S THOUGHTS ON THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE 193

Clairaut, Fontaine, D Alembert, and La Grange will have left it. They will have set up the columns of Hercules: there will be no going beyond that. 22 There is a dash of exaggeration in Diderot he was always just a little larger than life and there is exaggeration in this passage, for within Diderot s predicted hundred years the German mathematician Gauss had opened up new horizons in pure mathematics. Thus Diderot s remark can be taken as just another example of the apothegm that prophecy is the most gratuitous form of error. Nevertheless, as Cassirer remarked in discussing this passage, Diderot was the one among the thinkers of the eighteenth century who possessed perhaps the sharpest sense of smell (Spiirsinn) for all the intellectual movements and changes of the epoch. 23 His words should be taken in the sense of a new and fuller realization of the role to be played by the natural sciences, a new and fuller realization that mathematicians proceed by logical concepts and axioms that, although they have a rigorous self -consistency, possess no direct access to the empirical and concrete actuality of things. As Diderot remarked, pure mathematics is a kind of general metaphysics in which bodies are stripped of their individual qualities. 24 He, on the contrary, with his sense of the importance of research into organic life, wanted to enlarge scientific method sufficiently to allow for the study of these individual qualities. A new ideal of science was growing up calling for purely descriptive studies and interpretations of nature. And this ideal, wrote Cassirer, Diderot conceived and sketched out in its general char acteristics long before it was elaborated in detail. 25 This was the revolution that Diderot detected.

In his early writings Diderot had shown an awareness of the importance of biological researches, especially for the new light that they threw upon old problems of theology and metaphysics. This interest had been reflected in 1746 in the Pensees philosophiques and three years later in the Lettre sur le$ aveugles. The supposititious deathbed speech of Saunderson in the Lettre sur les aveugles had posed the problem of evolution and the necessity of studying process and change in life forms. Therefore, it is not surprising that Diderot carries these speculations one step forward in his Interpretation de la nature. The recent scientific writings of La Mettrie, of Buffon, and of Maupertuis, the president of the Prussian Academy, had provided a spring board, for they trenched on the very delicate question delicate, considering that Genesis was thought to have decided the issue once for all of the origin of life and the origin of species. Diderot took these speculations, espe cially those of Maupertuis, and, as Grimm remarked, adroitly adopted the policy of refuting the supposed Dr. Baumann [Maupertuis], under the pre-


JQ, DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

text of the dangerous consequences inhering in this opinion, but in reality in order to push it as far as it could go. 26 The results may be seen in some astonishing passages which read like a preview of the theory of evolution. 27 These passages, like the one about to be quoted, reveal Diderot as a natural scientist who was a leader in introducing ideas of transformism into modern scientific thought. Here we have the thinker who was aware of time and change, who had an intimation of the role of process in the elaboration of organic life, and who grappled with the concepts of the dynamic and the genetic. In his attempt to understand and interpret nature, Diderot surpassed the merely taxonomic, that part of science that classifies and arranges, and showed himself quite scornful of scientists like Linnaeus, whom he called a methodist. 28 In contrast, Diderot sought to understand the functional and investigate the process of change itself. Diderot, wrote Cassirer, was one of the first to surmount the static eighteenth-century picture of the world and substitute for it a clear-cut dynamic one. 29 But whenever one begins to think, as Diderot did, in terms of concepts in which time and the changes brought about by time make all the difference- process, adaptation, development one needs a new kind of logic to sup plement the old logic of the Aristotelian syllogism, which takes no account of time. Diderot was a precursor of the nineteenth-century philosophers and scientists who, following Hegel, adopted the mode of logic represented by the dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Marxist writers in par ticular are appreciative of the dialectical character of Diderot s thought. Karl Marx himself once referred to Diderot as his favorite prose writer, and Henri Lefebvre, one of the most influential Marxist intellectuals in France today, declares that the importance of the Pensees sur ^interpretation de la nature in the history of the philosophy of sciences, of science itself, and of human thought, cannot be overestimated. 30 The following passage is de scribed by Lefebvre as one of real genius and truly revolutionary. It was also one in which Diderot, somewhat masking the boldness of his thought, deemed it prudent to pretend to doff his hat to Genesis :

May it not be that, just as an individual organism in the animal or vegetable kingdom comes into being, grows, reaches maturity, perishes and disappears from view, so whole species may pass through similar stages? If the faith had not taught us that the animals came from the hands of the Creator just such as they are now, and if it were permissible to have the least uncertainty about their beginning and their end, might not the philosopher, left to his own conjectures, suspect that the animal world has from eternity had its separate elements confusedly scattered


DIDEROT S THOUGHTS ON THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE 195

through the mass of matter; that it finally came about that these elements united simply because it was possible for them to unite; that the embryo thus formed has passed through an infinite number of successive organizations and develop ments; that it has acquired in turn movement, sensation, ideas, thought, reflec tion, conscience, sentiments, passions signs, gestures, sounds, articulate speech, language laws, science and arts; that millions of years have elapsed between each of these developments; that there are perhaps still new developments to take place which are as yet unknown to us; that there has been or is to be a stationary condition of things; that the being thus developed is passing out of, or will pass out of, that condition by a continual process of decline, in which his faculties will gradually leave him just as they originally came to him; and that he will finally disappear from nature forever, or rather, will continue to exist, but in a form and with faculties wholly unlike those which characterize him in this moment of time? But religion spares us many wanderings and much labor. If it had not enlightened us on the origin of the world and the universal system of beings, how many dif ferent hypotheses would we not have been tempted to take for nature s secret? ai

Of this passage it has been remarked that there is contained within it *not only the transformation of species, but also the sketch of a complete system of materialistic and ateleological evolutional philosophy, after the Spencerian fashion. 32

On the face of it, Diderot s Interpretation de la nature does not appear very antireligious. Nor should one expect it to appear so, for, after all, it had been published by tacit permission and had been approved by a censor, even though published without the king s license. Upon examination, how ever, it can be seen that Diderot was, as usual, trying to open up channels for freer thought, and was consequently challenging established attitudes and modes of thinking as much as he dared. No doubt he intended that the very epigraph of the book an apt quotation from Lucretius poem De rerum natura, Those things that are in the light we behold from the darkness * should by association remind his readers that Lucretius avowed purpose was to free mankind, crushed, as he said, beneath the weight of religion. Moreover, Diderot s popularizing of Bacon, though in telligent and necessary, was also provocative, as can be demonstrated by the fact that years later the able and distinguished Catholic conservative, Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), in books like Les Soirees de Saint-Peter sbourg, de voted much attention to singling out and attacking Bacon as the prime originator of what De Maistre regarded as the going-wrong of the eighteenth century. Finally, Diderot s transformist* views, such as those quoted above,

  • Quae sunt in luce tuemur e tenebris.


f DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

190

in combination with Ms theory that all atoms, even in non-organic matter, have some sort of sensitivity -a view already apparent in the Interpretation de la nature and destined to bulk ever greater in his thought - moved him very close to a materialistic view of the universe. 33

Although the Mercure dc France and the Journal Encyclopedique spoke favorably of the Interpretation de la nature, on the whole it did not meet with a very enthusiastic reception. 34 Reviewers usually complained that it was obscure. The Abbe" Raynal referred in his news letter to the fact that there were only four metaphysicians left in France - Buffon, Diderot, Maupertuis, and CondiUac. The second has strewn about in two or three brochures, some quite acute ideas, but he has only insights without having any system and without developing their relationships. 35 The journalist CMment remarked of Diderot, What a pity that ... [he] should be so marvelously, so bristlingly, so desperately, metaphysical! You are about to see his Penstcs sur I interpretation de la nature; at one time it is a murky verbiage as frivolous as it is learned, at another an erroneous sequence of desultory reflections, the last of which proceeds to get itself lost a hundred leagues off to the left of the first. Only when he gets trivial does he become almost intelligible. But if you have the courage to follow him gropingly into his cavern, from time to time it may light up with some illuminating gleams. . . . 36 Frederick the Great, who disliked Diderot, remarked apropos of the adjuration Young man, take and read, There is a book that I shall not read. It s not written for me, for I m an old fogy. His continuing ill will can probably be detected in the fact that a Berlin newspaper, in a I773 review of a collected edition of Diderot s works, said of the Inter pretation de la nature that it was a sublime rigmarole in which the author, always in the clouds, contemplates phantoms which he takes for nature. 3T And La Harpe, a one-time philosophe who later turned against them, wrote about 1799, having had some forty-five years in which to think up the epigram, that never has nature been more hidden than when Diderot made himself her interpreter. 38

The most painful contemporary review appeared as the leading article in the first number of the new Parisian periodical Annee Litteraire. The position given to the review symbolized the editorial policy of the Annee Litteraire for the next thirty years: it was always ready to focus its critical attention upon the ideas of the philosophes. The editor, a former Jesuit named Freron (1719-76), proved himself a doughty and formidable ad versary of the philosophes, and they retaliated by speaking of him as if


DIDEROT S THOUGHTS ON THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE 197

he were the vilest of men. Voltaire, particularly, made him the butt of numerous jibes, a famous one being:

They say a snake the other day Bit Freron as in sleep he lay. What think you did thereon betide? Not Freron, but the serpent, died. 39 *

In reality Freron conducted his magazine with both skill and urbanity, a stalwart and hard-hitting conservative but an independent one. 40 More over, his journal was prodigiously successful as widely read as the Journal des S$avans and more widely read than the Jesuit Journal de Trevoux.^ In March 1754, Freron presented the Annee Littcraire to the public, and his remarks about Diderot s little book provided the basis for a long and hearty mutual disesteem. After criticizing the prideful presumption* of the philo- sophes in general, he turned to Diderot. The author is perhaps a great genius; but this astral body is always covered with the clouds of an im penetrable metaphysics. . . . Although I do not at all understand what he was trying to say, I feel that there must be a way of expressing himself more clearly, and that the confusion of his words comes merely from that of Eis mind. Freron went on with his animadversions, not forgetting to envenom the quarrel between Diderot and Reaumur by meticulously quoting some unfair and ungracious remarks that Diderot had made concerning the great entomologist. 42 Most of all, Freron objected to the praise that Diderot lavished on his friends and the epithets he showered upon his enemies. They [Diderot and his friends] render one another these little services. They are associated with certain others for this traffic in incense. These Philosophical Powers have concluded among themselves an offensive and defensive alliance. 5 43

Freron was confident that the author of the Interpretation dc la nature would not be esteemed by posterity. In this prediction Freron was too sure of himself, for posterity finds in Diderot s views on science a greater pene tration and spaciousness than many of his contemporaries could appreciate. And with it all is a marked desire on Diderot s part to make science useful and to make it understood by the people. First and last, Diderot was a man who sought the popularization and application of knowledge, and it was

  • L autre jour, au fond d un vallon,

Un serpent mordit Jean Freron. Que pensez-vous qu il arriva? Ce fut le serpent qui creva.


ip8 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

this desire within him that made him a man of potent action as well as a man of potent thought. Let us hasten/ he wrote, to make philosophy popular. If we want the philosophers to march on, let us bring the people up to the point where the philosophers are now/ 44 And along with his desire to make science useful Besides, the useful circumscribes all 45 Diderot breathed into his little book a Baconian humbleness toward nature, a feeling, as Bacon had put it, that we cannot command nature except by obeying her.

Diderot was sometimes humble but not often meek. In the face of the criticism that he evidently anticipated, he descanted in the Interpretation de la nature upon the obstacles besetting a researcher. Like many of Diderot s most eloquent pages, it is somewhat tinged with a trace of self-pity and self-praise. Still, it is a moving passage: 46

... he who resolves to apply himself to the study of philosophy may expect not only the physical obstacles that are in the nature of his subject, but also the multi tude of moral obstacles that will present themselves, as they have done to all the philosophers preceding him. When, then, it shall come about that he is frustrated, misunderstood, calumniated, compromised, and torn into pieces, let him learn to say to himself, Is it in my century only, am I the only one against whom there are men filled with ignorance and rancour, souls eaten by envy, heads troubled by superstition? ... I am, then, certain to obtain, some day, the only applause by which I set any store, if I have been fortunate enough to merit it.


CHAPTER 1 6


Man Is Born To Think for Himself


T;


IHE suspension of the Encyclopedic in February 1752 occurred only a few days after the publication of its second volume, not unnaturally causing people to be more concerned with the decision regarding the future of the venture than with the con tents of the book. A close examination of Volume II, however, evidently con vinced readers, as it had convinced the censor Lassone, that the work was carrying out its initial promise, and no doubt this impression contributed affirmatively to the decision to allow continuation of the work. Representa tive of some of the more important articles in its 871 double-columned folio pages were those on Ballet 5 by Cahusac, soon to publish his authoritative Dansc antienne et moderns; Barometer by D Alembert; Sundials (Cadran) by D Alembert and Diderot, a throwback to the latter s mathematical days; and, by Diderot, Stockings (Bas), Bronze/ Cacao, 5 Wood (Bois, show ing his interest in forestry), Brewing (Brasserie), Printing Characters (Caracteres d imprimerie), and Playing Cards (Cartes), to give a sampling of his many and varied articles. Something of the self-respect of the middle class is to be seen in the editors remark concerning the article on Brewing : "Brewing" is based upon a memorandum by M. Longchamp, whom a con siderable fortune and much aptitude for letters has not detached from the occupation of his ancestors. x And it is of interest to find Diderot saying in the article on Stockings/ I worked in M. Barrat s shop, the foremost crafts man of his kind and perhaps the last whom one will find of equal skill. 2 Indeed, as Diderot had claimed in his prospectus and D Alembert had re iterated in the Preliminary Discourse/ Diderot went to a great deal of trouble to familiarize himself with the construction and operation of machines. 3 Naigeon says that Diderot had scale models of the machine for knitting stockings and the machine for making cut velvet. Several times I have discovered him in his study intentionally dismantling the one or the other,

199


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 200

in order to put it together again in a working condition, an operation which he executed with an ease betokening a pretty lengthy study of the art, its means of achieving its ends, and its results. 4

Throughout Volume II, as in Volume I, there continued to be an impatience with vulgar errors, as in the article Boa for instance. Diderot recounts, in order to show how far exaggeration can go, that some authors had set forth that a boa can swallow an ox: Historians are ordinarily the opposite of the mountain in labor. If it s a matter of a mouse, their pen gives birth to an elephant. There was the same eagerness for innovation and improvement, as when in the article Canvas (Canems) Diderot wrote, We are here going to propose a sort of canvas that will make embroidery, whether done m wool or in silk, infinitely more beautiful, less lengthy, and less costly. There was the same provocation of enemies, as when Diderot again twitted the Franciscans, in Cafztchon, on the scholastic subtleties of their Duns Scotus; the same disconcerting juxtaposition of actual facts with Scriptural fantasies as when Diderot contrasted the positive exploits of the Basque whalers with the defeatist quotation from Job, And are you able to pull up Leviathan with a hook? 7 There was the same nagging at articles of Christian faith, as when, in the article Caucasus, Diderot quoted the ancient geographer Strabo to the effect that the Caucasians put on mourning when children were born and rejoiced at their funerals. There is no Christian thoroughly penetrated with the verities of his religion who ought not to imitate the inhabitant of the Caucasus and congratulate himself upon the death of his children. Death assures the newborn child of an eternal felicity, while the fate of the man who appears to have lived the most holy life still remains uncertain. How our religion is at once both terrible and consoling! 8 And there is Diderot s usual interest in matters having to do with anatomy, physiology, and medi cine. The conservation of men and progress in the art of healing them, he wrote in the article Cadaver, are objects so important that in a well-ordered state the priests would receive cadavers only from the hands of the anatomist and there would be a law forbidding the inhumation of a body before it was opened. How many phenomena are unsuspected and will always be un known because it is only by frequent dissection of cadavers that they can be learned. Diderot was consistent in this view, for before his death he left instructions that an autopsy be performed upon him. And the last sentence of his article Cadaver could be interpreted as making him one of the early proponents of a program of public health and preventive medicine: The conservation of life is an object that individuals adequately concern them selves with, but that it seems to me society neglects too much. 9


MAN is BORN TO THINK FOR HIMSELF 201

Though it waited until the appearance of Volume III, the Journal des Sgavans finally praised Volume II. This periodical, it will be remembered, had enraged D Alembert by alleging that his Preliminary Discourse had an antireligious tendentiousness. The editors had meanwhile made amends by praising his Melanges de literature, d histoire et de philosophic, a move thought by some to be an attempt, although an unsuccessful one, to split D Alembert and Diderot. 10 Now, belatedly, the Journal paid both volumes some very flattering attention. 11

In addition to acknowledging the anonymous help of D Holbach, the editors of the Encyclopedic were also able to announce in their Foreword to Volume II that BufEon had consented to contribute the article Nature. This was a feather in their cap: the Encyclopedic was beginning to obtain the services of great names. It is true that by the time the volume including

  • N* was published, conditions had changed and so had Buffon, but for the

nonce it was something to boast about.

The Chevalier Louis de Jaucourt was also announced as a new contributor. This man, who belonged to one of the oldest families in France, came to be of truly inestimable value to the enterprise. Unlike most members of the upper nobility, he had been carefully and broadly educated. While still a child, he was sent to Geneva and emerged from his training there a Protes tant, a very latitudinarian and undogmatic one. It is, incidentally, a phe nomenon of more than trivial interest that in Diderot s milieu there were so many Protestants or men of Protestant origin, like Grimm or De Jaucourt or, later, Meister -just as it is interesting to see how receptive he was to foreign influences, especially English, German, and Italian. This catholic and cosmopolitan urbanity has often been made a matter of reproach to Diderot on the part of nationalistically minded French critics, but these Prot estant and foreign associations kept the windows open and prevented him from feeling stifled in the French society of his day, with all its unyielding and absolutistic tendencies.

Following his years in Geneva, De Jaucourt spent three years at Cambridge and then at Leyden, where he studied under the celebrated Boerhaave, was a fellow-student of Dr. Theodore Tronchin, and became a doctor of medicine. In 1736, at the age of thirty-two De Jaucourt was nine years older than Diderot he returned to Paris. The breadth of this training, combined with his unusual knowledge of languages, made him one of the most highly re spected polygraphs of the century, and it was appropriate that he became a member of a number of foreign academies. Besides all these qualifications, he was a man of singular purity and uprightness, qualities of the greatest value


202 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

to the Encyclopedic, especially as many were only too inclined to think that the work was edited by sinister and immoral men. 12

As volume succeeded volume, De Jaucourt tended to take over the multitude of short articles on every conceivable subject that Diderot himself had done in the early days of the work; especially following the Great Desertion in 1759, De Jaucourt s symbol D. J. was seen on almost every page of the last ten volumes. De Jaucourt was a great scissors-and-paste man and, because he frequently failed to mention his sources, can legitimately be regarded as the Encyclopedias champion magpie. His intellect was not creative, but it was retentive, dogged, and quite accurate. His was a truly encyclopedic mind, in the quiz-program sense of the word, and while it is easy to scorn such talents, as Diderot himself was inclined to do, it ought never to be forgotten that it was the modest and unpretentious De Jaucourt who was as responsible as anyone for making the Encyclopedic the great focal point and gathering place of factual inf ormation.

It has become a truism that the Encyclopedic was of transcendent importance in transmuting values and changing the outlook of the eighteenth century. According to a present-day French critic, the Encyclopedic was the meta phor is interesting and suggestive the turntable of the epoch. 13 The new conception of the world and man that it propounded came as a result not only of following out the scientific and metaphysical implications of the sensistic psychology, but also from making new assumptions about the origins of man and society. There could be pieced together from the Ency clopedicit was not safe to be too explicit upon subjects so delicate an explanation of the nature of man and the beginnings of society that did not depend upon Genesis, an explanation of history and its meaning differing from that described in the Old and New Testaments and Saint Augustine s City of God. The new sociology and the new social science if they can be dignified at this early period with such positive names, so tentative and groping were their beginnings depended upon a view of man and society that of course differed from the traditional and authoritarian one. It can be bluntly described as the difference between conceiving of man and society as an act of creation and conceiving of them as the consequence of growth. The Encyclopedic view was the naturalistic view. The intimations and affirmations of it, traceable in numerous articles in the Encyclopedic, would amply repay the further researches of historians of the social sciences. 14

This new and positivistic approach, which was to command the whole hearted admiration of Auguste Comte, the founder of sociology, was in conflict, potentially or overtly, with established views, and continuously in


MAN is BORN TO THINK FOR HIMSELF* 203

danger of encountering some form of attempted suppression. On the prin ciple, then, of always keeping one s opponent a little off balance, the Ency clopedic seldom overlooked an opportunity to sow doubt concerning Chris- dan evidences, and Volume II followed this rule. Diderot s article on The Bible outlined a complete scheme of exegetics, according to one critic. Another has remarked of this article that, by posing a whole host of exegetical questions, Diderot undermined the principle of the verbal inspiration of the Bible once for all. 15 He continued to make a display of these exegetical principles in his article on Old Testament Canon (Canon, en theologie), an article of such erudition that it is one of the sources for supposing his theological studies had been carried to an advanced stage. He also suggested, rather gingerly, some telling criticisms of the institution of celibacy in Celibat, and the long article on Certitude, contributed by the Abbe de Prades and no doubt written in good faith, manages in its examination of the credibility of miracles to be more unsettling than reassuring. Little can be found in the Encyclopedic that directly challenges prevailing and official doctrine, but there is much that raises doubt while professing to allay it. A chance remark hidden away in a very long article in Volume II stirred up a storm of antagonistic derision against the Encyclopedic. The offending phrase was in the article devoted to Deer (Cerf). Diderot probably did not write it the author was probably Charles-Georges Le Roy, Superin tendent of the Chase in the Royal Park at Versailles but he made himself doubly responsible by printing it with an asterisk, and the incident shows, if nothing else, how closely the Encyclopedic was scrutinized by its enemies. Although the subject would appeal primarily to sportsmen, an important part of the article and this is characteristic of the Encyclopedic was de voted to a discussion of embryology, with references to Maupertuis book Venus physique and to the observations on the embryos of deer made by William Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood. But what excited the scorn and indignation of Diderot s enemies was the statement that many marvelous things are told about deer, especially when they have attained the age of reason! 16 One might suppose that this faintly ludicrous statement, the lucubration no doubt of a deer lover, was harmless enough. But actually it touched one of the exposed nerves of the eighteenth century, for the view that animals are automata and consequently without reason had become a matter of dogmatic religious belief in France. Descartes had asserted this in his Discourse on Method, arguing that all that animals dis play in their response to situations is a mechanical reaction set up by the vibration of fibers. This makes the brute soul a materialistic one; church-


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 204

men insisted upon making an absolute distinction between man and animals, the former, of course, having a soul untouched by materialism. 17 Here was still another impediment to free inquiry, for it thus became impious^to make any conclusions about human psychology based upon animal analogies. Pavlov s dogs are an example of the fact that much can be learned about human psychology from animal behavior, but in the eighteenth century this channel of inquiry was almost wholly blocked. Diderot, as usual, was willing to dare for the sake of intellectual freedom by letting the remark pass about deer s attaining the age of reason and, more importantly, by presenting the pros and cons in the article entitled Bite, animal brute. Here he remarked that to assert that they have no soul and that they do not think is to reduce them to the status of machines, which one seems scarcely more authorized to do than to declare that a man whose language we do not understand is an automaton. 18

Included in this same volume was an article by Diderot that was an original contribution to aesthetics, and which has received a great deal of serious attention from specialists in that branch of philosophy. 19 This was the article on The Beautiful (Beau). An unobtrusive essay, it summed up and criticized previous attempts to analyze the nature of beauty and then went on to break new ground by stating Diderot s conceptions. Here,^ there fore, is an excellent example of the function served by die Encyclopedic in the intellectual life of the eighteenth century. Not only did it assemble the accumulated facts of a couple of millennia, not only did it describe the me chanical arts and crafts as had never been done before, not only did it earnestly advocate new modes of thought in psychology and social phi losophy, but it also had a contribution to make in matters involving art. Thus the universality of the Encyclopedic is further exemplified, as also the versatility and creative vigor of Diderot, who could strike off so sub stantial a piece just to satisfy the routine requirements of the Encyclopedic. Diderot began by summarizing and discussing recent analyses of the nature of beauty, especially those of the Englishman Francis Hutcheson. Then, having criticized these views, he began to state his own. He disagreed with Hutcheson, who thought that we have an internal sense of beauty, which, operating somewhat like an innate idea of God or morality, informs us of what is beautiful and what is not. Diderot s own theory is so simple that at first it seems slight. He declared that the perception of relationships is the basis of the beautiful. 20 In another article, on Beauty (Beautf), he wrote, But I think that, philosophically speaking, everything that excites in us the perception of relationships is beautiful. 21


MAN is BORN TO THINK FOR HIMSELF 205

At first blush the definition of the beautiful as a perception of relation ships may seem, intolerably superficial. But as a matter of fact it allows ample latitude for the development of connoisseurship and taste. The more sensitive and perceptive the artist or the contemplator of art, the more re lationships he perceives and the finer and more reliable will be his criteria of beauty. The artist or the connoisseur becomes like the skillful experimenter Diderot alluded to in his Interpretation de la nature he develops a feel for his subject, he smells it out.

Diderot s doctrine that our sense of the beautiful depends upon our per ception of relationships is characteristic of his thought, which always dem onstrated flexibility, relativism, and a sense of the importance of context. Diderot rebelled against authoritarianism as much in matters of artistic ap preciation as in matters of religious belief. He was, in terms of the dispute that convulsed French letters in the closing years of the seventeenth century, more a Modern than an Ancient. Although he did not specifically allude to this famous quarrel in his Encyclopedic article, by denying that there is such a thing as Absolute Beauty he quite clearly attacked the traditionalist posi tion of Boileau, the Ancients principal defender. In accord with this line of reasoning, Diderot pointed out that a line in a play might be tragic in one context, deliciously comic in another. 22 Conditions, circumstances, and contexts determine our appreciation of beauty, he wrote, thus emphasizing, as modern aestheticians have noted, the infinitely conditional character of the esthetic experience. 23

Any theory of the beautiful rests upon a psychological doctrine of how the mind works in perceiving beauty. Diderot again applied the sensistic doc trine of John Locke: Whatever the sublime expressions used to designate the abstract notions of order, proportion, relationships, harmony called, if one likes, the eternal, original, sovereign, essential rules of beauty they have passed by way of our senses in order to reach our understanding. . . . These remarks are a positive way of restating Diderot s denial of an internal and absolute sense of beauty. And they show how his conception of the understanding of beauty resembles his understanding of nature in Inter pretation de la nature. Both the artist and the scientist must seek for reality in the external world. The scientist cannot discover truth by simply follow ing reason within the recesses of his mind, just as the artist or connoisseur cannot find beauty by that process. Therefore/ wrote Diderot, I call beauti ful everything outside me containing in itself the material for awakening in my understanding the idea of relationships; and [I call] beautiful in regard to myself everything that awakens this idea. . . . Whence it follows


20 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

that, although there is no absolute beauty, there are two sorts of the beautiful in relation to us, a red beauty and a perceived beauty 24

Diderot believed human beings so constituted that the appreciation of relationships and therefore, by his definition, the appreciation of beauty was natural to them. The nature of man makes him conscious of the relationships upon which beauty depends. It is as fundamental as that. Man s mind by its nature seeks symmetry, order, proportion, harmony, which is tantamount to saying that it seeks the evidence of relationships and is pleased by them. Moreover, in Diderot s view, beauty is a reality. Whatever may result from all these causes of diversity in our judgments, this is by no means a reason for thinking that real beauty, that which consists in the per ceiving of relationships, is a chimera. The application of this principle may vary to infinity, and its accidental modifications occasion dissertations and literary wars; but the principle remains none the less constant/ 25

Diderot s theory of the beautiful allows for an infinity of nuances and gradations, and this was like him, too. Diderot was always aware of the shadings and paradoxes and ambiguities with which all of human experi ence is interwoven. 26 Therefore he responded unfavorably to absolutist defi nitions, to descriptions of experience in terms of black and white. It is this disposition of mind that entities his thought to be called dialectical always qualifying itself, always in a dialogue with itself. This mental dis position makes him a thinker, an artist, a critic, very hard to pigeonhole.

By his emphasis on the relative in the appreciation of the beautiful, Diderot inevitably raised the question of taste. For taste is inherently sub jective, necessarily depending upon the judgment and appreciation of the person contemplating the art object, and thus varies widely, as Diderot realized. Everyone agrees/ he wrote, that there is a beautiful, that it is the result of perceived relationships; but according as one has more or less knowledge, experience, practice in judging, meditating, seeing, plus natural reach of the mind, one says that a certain object is poor or rich, confused or sustained, paltry or overcharged. 27 It is the difference between the apprecia tion of a painting by Rouault and of a calendar picturing a girl with her skirt caught in a wringer.

The problem of taste brings us back to the problem of standards in judg ment. If there is no absolute beauty, are there then no criteria to go by? Must the appreciation of beauty become, after all, purely anarchical, with everybody complacently belonging to the I-don t-know-art-but-I-know-what- I-like school? Diderot was well aware of this problem, as we have seen, and in later works, when he discussed what is meant by the imitation of


MAN is BORN TO THINK FOR HIMSELF 207

nature and spoke of the line of beauty, the ideal line/ he made trenchant attempts to deal with it. 28 Those who are critical of his article on The Beautiful usually argue that his doctrine is vague and inconclusive in the matter of exploring the relationship of beauty and taste. Perhaps Diderot was attempting to deal with the problem rather too much in terms of mere logic. At all events, we later find him learning to judge art more in terms of techniques than in relationships. Still, his analysis in the article concerning the beautiful was a vigorous statement. And it is not to be forgotten that he insisted that there is such a thing as objective beauty. Not absolute beauty, or beauty to be apperceived by absolute rules. Rather, Diderot s is the at titude of a man who, by an understanding of the relative, hopes to approach the absolute, yet knowing all the while that the absolute cannot be reached and knowing, too, that we should not want to reach it if we could. Per haps this defines a liberal, whatever the object of his meditations and wherever and whenever he may be found.

When Volume III of the Encyclopedic finally appeared in November 1753 after a year and a half of suspension, it contained an important preliminary notice written by D Alembert in the name of the editors. The eagerness that has been shown for the continuation of this Dictionary/ he began, is the sole motive that could have induced us to take it up again. In this moment of triumph, D Alembert tended to allow his self-love to prevail, and the foreword is replete with a strange combination of apologetics, vainglory, and that irritating self-righteousness that the antagonists of the philosophy found so exasperating. 29

D Alembert not unnaturally used the occasion for a restatement of the Encyclopedias editorial doctrines. As has previously been remarked, Diderot and D Alembert apparently were permitted to recontinue their work without having to compromise their principles. It is interesting to observe, as Grimm pointed out, that they had not even been required to tip any revised pages into the preceding volumes. 30 Their independence would seem to be con firmed by D Alembert s statement in the foreword that it is principally by the philosophical spirit that we seek to distinguish this Dictionary. Thus the Encyclopedic would not contain, he wrote, the lives of the saints nor the genealogical trees of ruling houses nor the detailed description of every village; nor the conquerors who have devastated the earth, but the im mortal geniuses who have enlightened it; nor, finally, a crowd of sovereigns whom history should have proscribed. Not even the names of princes and grandees have a right to be in the Encyclopedic, except by the good they


20 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

have done the sciences. For the Encyclopedic owes everything to talents, nothing to titles, and is the history of the human spirit and not of the vanity of men/ And then, with that yearning for a secular immortality so characteristic of men who deny heaven and hell, he wrote, May posterity love us as men of virtue, if it does not esteem us as men of letters! 31

Volume III, which ran to nine hundred pages and yet covered the alphabet only from CHA to CONSECRATION, began to develop some new de partments or areas of interest. One was that devoted to business and business practices. Excellent articles, such as Exchange (Change}, Commerce/ and Competition (Concurrence], were contributed anonymously by an econ omist named Forbonnais. His articles reflect the middle class, businessman s point of view characteristic of the whole Encyclopidie?* Another new de velopment was the description of legal and administrative institutions (for example, various courts, councils, codes, and officers, such as Chancellor* and Commissioners ). These numerous articles were the work of the lawyer and legal antiquarian Boucher d Argis (1708-91), the recipient of special editorial thanks in the forewords to Volumes III and IV. These multi tudinous articles, which greatly increased the bulk of the work, were in formative, authoritative, and dispassionate; and they gave the Encyclopedic a less contentious complexion than it had had in the first two volumes. Unquestionably they contributed greatly to the value of Volume III and its successors. It is already acknowledged, wrote Clement six weeks after the publication of the third volume, that it is superior to the second, which in turn surpassed the first. 5 33

Diderot made fewer contributions to Volume III than to previous volumes, but the articles were substantial. There were the usual ones concerning the crafts, such as Tost Chaise (Chaise de paste), Hemp (Chanvre}, and Hat* (Chapeau). There was the usual call for reforms, as when, in the article on Hunting (Chasse), he wrote of the damage done to crops and the savage punishments dealt out to poachers. If the life of a man is worth more than that of all stags, why punish a man with death for having made an attempt upon the life of a stag? 34 Similarly, Diderot s remarks on the importance of actors (Comediens) are interesting as testimony to his faith in the social value of the theater and to his desire to secure to actors their civil rights. If one considers, he wrote, the purpose of our theater and the talents necessary to a person for successfully playing a role in it, the position of an actor will necessarily assume in every right mind the degree of consideration that is its due. It is now a matter, especially on our French stage, of inciting to virtue, inspiring horror of vice, and exposing that which


MAN is BORN TO THINK FOR HIMSELF 209

is ridiculous. ... In spite of which, they [actors] have been severely treated by some of our laws. . . . 35 Diderot s own plays, written a few years later, exemplified this conviction that the theater could incite to virtue. Corre spondingly, he always esteemed actors highly as the archpriests of what may be termed a secular church.

Particularly interesting, because it exemplified Diderot s versatility and adaptability, is the article on Composition in Painting. As Diderot later told the story, we had hoped to have from one of our most vaunted amateurs the article "Composition in Painting." We received from him a couple of lines of definition, without exactness, without style, and without ideas, with the humiliating confession that he knew no more about it; and I was obliged to write the article, I who am neither a connoisseur nor a painter. 36 In this article (which dealt with such subjects as the unity of time, place, and action in painting; the treatment of draperies; the sub ordination of figures; etc.), the reader will find many o the ideas that Diderot set forth years later in his Salons. His article was full of fresh and striking suggestions, and one great French critic, usually austere in his praise, wrote, This article is delicious. . . . Lessing s whole Laocoon [1766] is in it in substance. 37

The usual campaign of sowing doubts in regard to revealed religion was waged in Volume III. The delicate and tricky but inescapable subject of religion posed a truly Hamlet-like dilemma. Diderot solved the problem, sometimes at the price of his intellectual honesty, by never refusing lip service to the claims of revealed religion. But his treatment of such subjects as Christianity, The Chaldeans, Chaos, and Sacred Chronology (all of them lengthy and important articles appearing in Volume III), while super ficially unexceptionable, was apt to raise doubts and lead to ambiguous conclusions. It became a favorite tactic of the Encyclopedic to indulge in chronological calculations affecting the Old Testament, for the Scriptures were demonstrably confusing and inconsistent, so that the thin wedge of higher criticism could most easily enter at this point. The article on The Chaldeans, considering their proficiency in astronomy, gave Diderot an obvious opportunity; and in his article on sacred chronology, he discussed and compared various chronological systems, threw doubt on the accuracy of Old Testament manuscripts, referred learnedly to Samaritan texts and to the Septuagint, and inclined toward the conclusion reached by the Abbe de Prades except that it would be impermissible to adopt it, now that the censures of several bishops of France and the Faculty of Theology have declared it prejudicial to the authority of the sacred books. Diderot con-


2IO DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

eluded this article abruptly, perhaps for the very purpose of leaving the reader uncertain and in the air. The article on Chaos/ too, was singularly and probably intentionally as chaotic as the subject it dealt with. It posed all sorts of difficult logical questions regarding the Creation, sum marized with loving care the objections of Spinozists and materialists (while purporting, of course, to refute them), and concluded by leaving the ques tion in a perplexing and confused condition. 38 The article on Christianity* was similarly tendentious. Instead of analyzing Christianity as a spiritual religion, it somehow managed to discuss it as if its principal importance had been as an instrument of government. Diderot plainly implied, to use Gibbon s famous phrase, that all forms of religion are regarded as equally true by the people, equally false by philosophers, and equally useful by magistrates. Accordingly he had the audacity, in eighteenth-century France, to suggest that Mohammedanism and Christianity had many points of re semblance; he quoted Montesquieu copiously; and altogether was not far short of adumbrating the sociology of religion.

What the philosophes meant by philosophy is admirably exemplified by two quotations from articles that Diderot wrote for Volume III. The first one reveals their characteristic hatred of priestcraft and their high, humanistic views of the nature of man. Discussing the Chaldeans, Diderot wrote, in transparent allusion to authoritarian beliefs anywhere, that one must be oneself very little of a philosopher not to feel that the finest privilege of our reason consists in not believing anything by the impulsion of a blind and mechanical instinct, and that it is to dishonor reason to put it in bonds as the Chaldeans did. Man is born to think for himself. S9 *

The second quotation is more Rabelaisian but equally philosophical/ In the article on Heat* (Chaleur) Diderot discussed the periodicity of the sex impulse in animals, and then compared it with that of a human being. It appears that the frequency of its accesses [in man], which begin with his adolescence and last as long and longer than his capabilities, is one of the consequences of his ability to think and of his suddenly recalling to himself certain agreeable sensations .... If this is so, the lady who said that if animals made love only at intervals, it was because they were beasts [this is a pun: betes means both beasts and stupid ], made a more philosophical remark than she realized/ 40

The most controversial article in Volume III turned out to be one by D Alembert on the quality of education in the secondary schools (colleges) of the day. In these schools the child spent about six years in humanities/

  • L tommc e$t ne pour penser dc lui-meme.


MAN is BORN TO THINK FOR HIMSELF 211

learning mostly Latin and some Greek; one or two years in rhetoric/ where he learned to write discourses called amplifications (a very suitable name, thought D Alembert, since they ordinarily consist of drowning in two sheets of verbiage what one could and should say in two lines ) ; and two years in philosophy/ which smacked strongly of the content and methods of medieval scholasticism. This was the education that he himself had had, and in retrospect it seemed execrable. He wanted in the course of study more history, more modern languages, and more study of a child s native tongue. He thought that the study of English and Italian would be particularly useful, perhaps also German and Spanish. And then, knowing that his far-sweeping criticisms and suggestions for reform would engender against him a great deal of counter-criticism, he concluded by remarking that this is what the love for the common weal has inspired me to say on education, whether public or private. ... I cannot think without regret of the time that I lost in my childhood: I impute this irreparable loss to the established custom and not to my masters; and I should like my experi ence to be useful to my country. 41

It was fully characteristic of the Encyclopedists in their general desire for reform not to overlook so important a matter as education. But it is also likely that in writing this article D Alembert was satisfying his grudge against the Jesuits fully as much as gratifying his zeal for the public good. D Alembert, a man who thought it bad policy ever to forget a slight, made a number of rather spiteful and quite unmistakable allusions, in his fore word to Volume III and in the list of errata, to certain persons who had been the sources of the Encyclopedic 3 recent woes. In particular, he pointed out the plagiarisms in the Dictionnaire de Trevoux, while brazenly and impenitently defending his own.* 2 And the proof that he was aiming at the Jesuits in his article on College lies in his severe criticism of the dramatic productions staged there, which, as everyone knew, were employed by the Jesuits as an educational device much more than by anyone else. 43

D Alembert s article provoked a pamphlet, probably written by a Jesuit with a keen eye for an ad hominern argument, for he was at great pains to show that Lord Bacon had highly praised Jesuit colleges** Still another anonymous pamphlet, this one almost certainly written by a Jesuit, com plained of Volume III generally. The pamphleteer disliked in particular the choice of subject matter. Articles such as Hat/ Collar/ Cat/ Dog/ Candle/ Tost Chaise/ Mushroom/ Hemp/ and Coal he thought too long. They have preferred to teach us how to plant cabbages, steep quinces, sow hemp, cook lemons and pumpkins, and other bagatelles of the sort;


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 212

but as for the Colosseum, they have said in a dozen lines all that one needs to know about it, or, rather, aE that they know about U . . . A wo k ke the Encyclopedic . . . should contain only such knowledge as makes true


Ndererot nor the Journal dc Trtvoux took any part, at least openly in Ise bickerings. But the Jesuits in Lyon, the second otjr of France, ook up the cudgels. Several times during the Lenten season of 1754 *** P~ ff Igainst ^Encyclopedic, and in November of that year they posted foho broadsides-there is a copy in the Bibliotheque NaUonale signed by the principal orator s own hand - inviting the public to a meetmg m behaj o the public schools against the Encyclopedists (Pro Sckoks ^ ,ad- versus Encyclopaedias). According to a letter written to Malesherbes about this occasion, the orator inveighed for an hour and a quarter -m Latin, of course-accusing the Encyclopedic of disloyalty to the monarchy pomt- ing out its plagiarisms, and particularly attacking the artic k on College^ D^lembert was insulted by a sneering reference to his illegiumate bnth allegedly made during the harangue, although this was subsequent^ denied and could not be substantiated. D Alembert made as much troub e as he could for the orator, Father Tolomas, and the Royal Society of Lyon to which the priest belonged, but without obtaining much satisfaction, and thus the incident sputtered out inconclusively * 6

His quarrel with the Jesuits at Lyon was not the only incident occurring at about this time in which D Alembert made it a matter of policy to make people think twice before they lampooned an Encyclopedist. A budding provincial playwright named Palissot caricatured Rousseau in a play pro- duced atNancy in 1755. Palissot made his offense even worse in D Alembert s eyes by having his play printed and published at Paris. D Alembert leaped to Rousseau s defense, and caused as much difficulty for Palissot as he was able his principal handicap being that the forgiving Rousseau wanted no trouble made at all.* 7 This incident, occurring in 1755-6, made even more con spicuous the break between Rousseau and his former friends which came

three years later.

Volume IV of the Encyclopedic, published in October 1754, proceeded from CONSEIL to DIZ in eleven hundred pages, its dignity somewhat impaired by its own admissions that it was something less than perfect. 48 Thus the list of errata plaintively entreated its contributors to take care that their manuscripts be legible, especially in regard to proper names, and that punctuation be exact in the places where the sense is necessarily am-


MAN is BORN TO THINK FOR HIMSELF 213

biguous. This was in addition to a note that had already been published in the errata in Volume II: The work of the editors, as editors, consists solely in collecting and publishing the work of others together with their own; but they have never purported to undertake either recasting articles done by others or going back to the sources whence they might have been taken, so that the editorial disclaimers, one implicit and one explicit, added up to a rather damaging admission of shortcomings.

Volume IV, of all the volumes that had yet appeared, gave the impression of being the most objective and the least controversial. Accordingly, criticisms of it were comparatively rare. The Abbe Raynal, writing in his confidential news letter, was an exception, but perhaps he was offended (being a his torian who had published books on English, Dutch, and general European history) at not being asked to be a contributor. 49 That he was not is a fact that highlights the Encyclopedias lack of interest in political and military history.

A notable omission in this volume was the absence of any article on Con stitution, that is to say the papal bull Unigenitus, which had caused so much political and religious strife in France since its promulgation in 1713. This was a delicate topic indeed, especially as the Parlement of Paris had been exiled to Pontoise over this very issue the preceding year, and passions were still running high. Drafts of a projected article are still in existence, but Malesherbes finally decided that the subject was too hot to handle and ordered Diderot not to publish anything concerning it. 50 Included, however, were all the usual features and some new ones: the usual abundance of articles of the type now grown familiar to us long descriptions by Diderot, such as those on Ropemaking (Corderie), and Lace (Dentelle), and Cot ton/ this last based on a memorandum furnished by Turgot, soon to be come famous as a gifted public administrator. This was the type of article complained of by some as being too long, but which Diderot defended by saying that there was more to fear from their being too brief, everything in handiwork being almost equally essential and equally difficult to de scribe. 51 There were numerous articles once more by Boucher d Argis on laws and legal and political institutions, as also articles by Forbonnais on business, besides contributions by interesting new authors. Dr. Theophile de Bordeu, who had recently published some important pioneering research on glands and who came to exert a considerable influence upon the thinking of Diderot, wrote an article, Crisis,* which was a description and discussion of the art of healing. Claude Bourgelat, who later founded the schools of veterinary medicine in France, began in Volume IV to contribute articles


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 214

on horse-training and farriery so original and extraordinary that it has been said they were the first to give to the veterinary art a scientific direction. An other valuable acquisition was Duclos, historiographer of France and per manent secretary of the French Academy. But the shining jewel in the Encyclopedic diadem was the name of Voltaire, announced as the author of articles to appear in Volume V.

That Voltaire consented to contribute articles, or offered to do so it is uncertain which is the fact - constitutes proof by itself of the success and prestige that the Encyclopedic had attained. For France s most famous man of letters, living at Geneva since he had worn his welcome thin at Potsdam, had a shrewd and foxy sense for keeping in the public view, and was un likely to contribute to the prestige of an enterprise unless it offered a strong probability of enhancing his own. For the remaining twenty-five years of his life, until the apotheosis in Paris in 1778, Voltaire continued to live in or near Geneva, sometimes at Les Dflices in Genevan territory or at^Ferney in French, reluctant to live all the time in the one because playacting was forbidden, and poised in the other so that he could move agilely over the border if danger threatened. During this long period he managed to keep himself the cynosure of Parisian eyes, the dictator in many respects of Parisian tastes. This was, in reality, a very great accomplishment. It meant that he must miss no opportunity of feeling the pulse of Parisian opinion. It meant that to keep in the public eye he must have something to say on almost every subject and a piquant rejoinder to almost every pamphleteer. People who regret that Voltaire wasted his talents replying to every wretched hack who took it into his head to attack him miss the point: these replies kept him alive in the public recollection. Living practically in exile, two hundred and fifty miles from Paris in space and a fortnight in time, his problem was to manage by some feat of intellectual prestidigitation to seem to be leading Parisian public opinion while in reality following it. For twenty-five years he performed this sort of Indian rope trick. Voltaire, the cunning Voltaire, needed all his cunning not to be forgotten, and it is a testimony to the real success of the Encyclopedic that he saw self-advantage in being associated with it.

Although Volume IV gives the impression of settling down to a some what less controversial tone, it must not be supposed that fire and color were lacking. As always, the editors used the columns to flog their enemies, as in the anti-Jansenist article by D Alembert on Convulsionnaires, or the article on Controversy* in which Diderot ironically and solemnly cites the


MAN is BORN TO THINK FOR HIMSELF 215

authority of the Dictionnaire de Trevoux? 2 As always, there was the desire for economic and social improvement, as in Diderot s wondering whether there could not be found in the French dominions a plant with an under- bark fiber suitable for weaving, or in the long article on forced labor on the public highways (Corvee), in which the author suggested ways for in creasing efficiency while reducing the hardships caused the peasants. 53 As always, there were the admonitory articles on correct scientific method, such as Diderot s on Credulity and Belief (Croire), articles which were likely to bemuse their readers concerning the basis for faith in the evidences of the Christian religion. As always, there were long and solemn articles on subjects dealing with the Old Testament, as, for example, the article Deluge, which raised about as many common-sense questions about the Flood as the article in Volume I had done about Noah s Ark. And, as always, there were Diderot s own contributions, colorful, volatile, impudent, sometimes profound.

Diderot s use of irony and of what Americans call the dead pan is well shown in his article on Damnation. Damnation, he wrote, signifies eternal punishment in Hell. The dogma of damnation or of eternal punish ment is clearly revealed by Scripture. Therefore it is no longer a question of seeking to determine by reason whether or not it is possible for a finite being to do God an infinite injury; or whether or not the eternalness of punishment is not more contrary to His goodness than conformable to His justice; or whether, because it has pleased Him to ordain an infinite reward for good, He has or has not been able to ordain an infinite punishment for evil. In place of becoming entangled in a web of captious reasonings, likely to shake a faith not well established, one should submit to the authority of the Holy Books and the decisions of the Church, and, trembling, effect one s salvation, ceaselessly considering that the enormity of the offense is in direct proportion to the dignity of the offended, and in inverse proportion to the offender, and [ceaselessly considering] what must be the enormity of our disobedience, if that of the first man could be effaced by nothing less than the blood of the Son of God. 54

Intentionally challenging as was this kind of article, deceptively planting doubt while saying the unexceptionable, Diderot seems to have felt that its apparent conformity needed justification. In this volume, he himself wrote that one should not suppose that sages like Socrates, Plato, and Cicero, and others, always spoke according to the ideas of the people : nevertheless they were sometimes obliged to conform to them in order not


2 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

to be accused of atheism/ 55 Surely for contemporary readers of the Encyclo pedic the application of this remark to certain living sages must have been

unavoidable.

Among Diderot s contributions were his customary articles of preponder antly literary interest, the articles on word definition and analysis of synonyms, the import of which was primarily psychological or belletristic rather than Informative. Often Diderot fitted the rhythm of his prose to the mood of what he was describing, so that he not only explained his subject but represented it, as has been strikingly brought out in regard to the article Enjoyment 1 (Jottissanct) ** In Volume IV Diderot wrote an article of this sort, sensitively analyzing the various meanings of the word delicious and especially describing the deliciousness of sinking into repose. Grimm called it one of the most precious things written in French/ and a modern critic, who specializes in the study of Diderot and of Baudelaire, speaks of it as a completely modern analysis of the consciousness of the fleeting and the evanescent. 57

Two of Diderot s articles that Grimm particularly commended were long ones devoted to the philosophical schools of the Cynics and Cyrenaics. 58 These exercises by Diderot in the history of philosophy were not without precedent, for he had written the long article on Aristotelianism in Volume I. In Volumes II and III, however, he had tended to delegate these tasks to the Abbe Pestre, a shadowy figure who, after the De Prades affair, fades out of the Encyclopedic in the unobtrusive way that Alice observed in the Cheshire cat. From that point on, Diderot took over this assignment. His articles were so highly regarded that Naigeon, thirty-five years later, col lected and republished seventy-three of them in a successor of Diderot s Encyclopedic, the Encyclopedic methodique, which first appeared in 1781 and ran to 229 volumes before it desisted in 1832. In practically every case the information in these articles by Diderot was freely borrowed from a recent history of philosophy written in Latin by a German named Brucker, a fact which Diderot did not attempt to conceal. 59 Naigeon says that Diderot regretted that the pressure of time necessitated his following Brucker, even to the point of adopting his arrangement and organization of subject matter. 60 But it is still true that Diderot put enough of himself into these articles to make them more than a mere transcription, and a French student of the Encyclopedic has declared, even after making allowance for Brucker and another source named Deslandes, that Diderot is practically the creator of the history of philosophy in France. 61 Moreover, his personal additions not infrequently have a biographical interest. In the articles on Cynics and


MAN is BORN TO THINK FOR HIMSELF 217

Cyrenaics, for example, written as they were not later than mid-1754, Diderot betrays sentiments that probably betoken a growing antagonism to the austere views of his friend Rousseau. 62

The Encyclopedic was a growing success. What is more, Diderot knew it At least it is tempting to infer so from the fact that about this time he de manded greater remuneration from his publishers, as we shall see, and also from the fact that about this period he refused in an amusingly high-and- mighty way a contribution from one of the century s greatest names. The Abbe Trublet, who was a sort of literary representative of the famous Fontenelle, tells the story: MM. d Alembert and Diderot appearing to desire to have something of M. de Fontenelle s for the Encyclopedic, I had delivery made to the second [i.e. Diderot] of the fragments on the Greek dramatic poets, the only manuscript of M. de Fontenelle that I then had, he being still alive [he died a centenarian in 1757]. Some time afterwards I asked M. Diderot whether he would use them. He replied to me with vivacity that he would take good care not to insert in the Encyclopedic a writing in which Aeschylus was treated as being crazy; and it is true that M. de Fontenelle said that approximately, although less crudely. C3 It was like Diderot to respond emphatically and with vivacity. Thus did its editor, in his reverence for the classics, defend Aeschylus at the cost of rejecting for the Encyclopedic a contribution from one of the most famous men of letters in France.


CHAPTER 17

Business and Pleasure: A New Contract, Mme Geoffrin s Salon, Sophie Volland


r


FN LATE 1754, with four volumes of the Encyclopedic off the press, Diderot could look back with gratifica tion upon a number o arduous, eventful, and productive years. Not only had he borne the principal burden of editing a work of formidable size, but he had also found time in the years just preceding to write some in fluential books. Now he took time off for a visit to Langres, the first he is known to have made for twelve years and the last, it turned out, while his father was living. Having left his wife and year-old daughter in the apartment on the Rue de 1 Estrapade, he spent at least ten days in Langres, where, among other things, he lent five hundred livres to a local husband man and stood godfather to a Caroillon child, destined one day to be brother-in-law to Diderot s own daughter. 1 It is apparent that the Langres folk still thought of Diderot as being conscientiously able to accept the duties of a Christian godfather. It would be interesting, and more to the point, to know why Diderot, too, thought so.

It is quite evident that Diderot had an enjoyable time at Langres. His letter of thanks, a very long one addressed to all his relatives and friends, was that of a man writing to people he likes. It was written with a touch of robustiousness and vulgarity by no means foreign to the Diderot style, but in this instance specially tailored to please the taste of unfastidious provincial folk. It is a little as though Diderot thought of himself as writing to the people in a painting by Jan Steen. And a succeeding letter shows how thoroughly he had renewed old friendships. In it he describes to the Caroillon family how, upon his return to Paris, he shamelessly ingratiated himself, in their behalf, with a wealthy old Parisian aunt of theirs, and goes on exuberantly to speak of his hopes for the future marriage of his

218


BUSINESS AND PLEASURE 2Ip

daughter (aged one and a half!) with a Caroillon son (aged nine), a mar riage which, in fact, eventually came to pass. 2

Diderot has left a vivid picture of the family circle at Langrcs in a dialogue entitled Conversation of a Father with his Children, or Con cerning the Danger of Putting Oneself above the Law* (Entrctien d un fere avec ses enjants, ou du danger dc se mettre au-dessu$ des lots)? The discussion gave the author an opportunity to describe the compassionate but evenhanded justice of his father, the generous and tender impulses of his sister, the harsh and unbending qualities of his abbe brother, and his own magnanimous and somewhat quixotic impulses. Although written much later, it must surely describe the family group of this very time. Moreover, this lively and endearing dialogue probably reports a conversation much as it really occurred, for Diderot, while very imaginative and creative in matters of imagery and scientific thought, was remarkably uninventive in regard to plots and characters. He could observe meticulously, he could report with great verve, and once he had begun to take flight, he could soar. But it has been remarked that he frequently needed the memory of a real event or a real person to inspire him, so that it very often turns out that the stories he tells actually happened. 4 In this dialogue he mentions some of the persons by their real names, such as the family notary Jean- Louis Dubois, not bothering to conceal their identity even when he knew that the piece was going to be published. Therefore the presumption is all the greater that this conversation, which concerned difficult cases of conscience Diderot loved to discuss difficult cases of conscience really took place.

While at Langres Diderot consulted his relatives concerning his relations with the publishers of the Encyclopedic, even to the point of receiving elaborate legal advice from the notary Dubois. Thus he writes to his family, Scarcely had I returned to Paris when my publishers were informed of it and a day appointed for discussing our interests. We all put so much heat and so little reason into our first interview that I thought we would not be seeing one another again. There wasn t a single one of the articles of the contract drawn up by M. Dubois that was not attacked/ In this letter Diderot wrote as if he was determined to retire to Langres if he did not secure what he demanded. 5 But after an elaborate negotiation, involving many intermediaries and numerous compromises, a new contract was signed on 20 December 1754.

The preamble of this document recounts that Diderot had pointed out that the amount of work in the Encyclopedic had increased since the previous contract had been signed. Therefore the publishers agreed that beginning


220 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

with the fifth volume they would pay Diderot 2500 livres a volume, 1500 livres payable when the first copy for a volume, the other 1000 when the last, was handed in. Moreover, within three months of the publication of the last volume of letterpress, Diderot was to receive a lump sum of 20,000 livres. All books hitherto supplied him as sources or for reference in editing the Encyclopedic were henceforth to be regarded as his property these books were the backbone of the library he later sold to Catherine II of Russia and the publishers put in writing that the said M. Diderot will be in the future, as he has been in the past, editor of all the parts of the Ency- clopSdie! e It might be remarked that no previous document had so pre cisely defined Diderot s position.

About this time, probably because the new contract made it financially feasible, the Diderot family moved to more spacious quarters. For the remaining thirty years of Diderot s life the family lived on the fourth floor (fifth, American style) of a building in which Diderot also rented space for his study on the floor above, directly beneath the roof. The building stood on the corner of the Rue Taranne, which no longer exists, and the Rue Saint-Benott, which still does. Were the building in which Diderot lived still standing it was pulled down in 1866 it would be on the Boulevard Saint-Germain directly across the street from the Cafe de Flore, in the heart of the domain of the existentialists. A fine statue of Diderot, done in bronze by Jean Gautherin in 1885, stands near the site. 7

A phrase in his thank-you letter to Langres suggests that Diderot had come to distrust D Alembert. I don t know how it was, he wrote, that during this interval impatience did not seize me and I did not send them packing to all the devils, them, the Encyclopedic, their papers, and their contract; a little more confidence in the probity of my colleague, and that would have done it. 8 This must mean that Diderot suspected D Alembert of being willing to supplant him as principal editor. The lack of cordiality between the two men ultimately became marked enough to be noted by Marmontel. The house of Baron d Holbach and, since some little time, that of Helvetius, were the rendezvous for this society, composed partly of the cream of Mme Geoffrin s guests and partly of some individuals whom Mme Geoffrin deemed too bold and too venturesome to be admitted to her dinners. . . .

1 have never known very well why D Alembert held himself aloof from the society of which I speak. He and Diderot, associates in exertion and in glory in the enterprise of the Encyclopedic, had at first been cordially united, but they were no longer. They spoke of each other with much esteem, but


BUSINESS AND PLEASURE 221

they were not intimate and they scarcely saw each other any more. I never dared to ask them the reason for it. 9

The year 1754 was a particularly auspicious one for D Alembert, for in the course of it he received the greatest honor his writings could earn in France, election to the French Academy. This institution, which had been founded by the great Cardinal Richelieu, existed under the direct patronage of the king of France, and inclusion among its forty members conferred such prestige that even princes of the royal blood, such as the Comte de Clermont in this very year, sought election to it. One of the Academy s most endearing and most pathetic conceits has ever been that its membership confers immortality. In the buildings of the Institut de France, on the eighteenth-century doors to the charming room in which the Academy does its work, there is wrought in intricate and garlanded design the phrase A I lmmortalite. It is scarcely necessary to remark, however, that laurel leaves also, like the men who wore them, can turn to dust.

D Alembert fully deserved his election. He was more than a man of science, France s greatest living mathematician; he was also a talented and influential man of letters, as witness his Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedic, as well as other writings collected and published in 1753 under the tide of Melanges de litterature, d histoire, et de philosophic. Yet his election could not help but be widely interpreted as more than simply a personal recognition. It was also a victory for the Encyclopedic and for the new philosophy. The prestige of the new outlook increased in step with his, and the fact that he had gained admittance to the citadel of French letters not unnaturally caused the philosophes to hope, and their enemies to dread, that this was to be only their first entry into the Academy. D Alembert s election increased if anything was still able to increase the self-confidence and self-esteem of a group that was rapidly becoming a kind of party or sect.

This tendency of the philosophes to coalesce into a coterie became a sub ject of frequent and exasperated remark during the 1750*$. Freron in his Annee Litteraire rarely let the opportunity pass to complain of it, and even the Abbe Raynal, who was more a friend than an enemy of the philosophes, remarked in his private news letter during 1754 upon the harsh tone and bad temper that some men of letters of today mistake for philosophy. . . . If the tone of criticism is abandoned [he went on], it is for the purpose of elevating to the third heaven the authors of the Encyclopedic and the author of the Histoire naturelle [Buffon]; aside from them there is nothing praise worthy any more. They it is who have taught us to think and to write,


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 222

who have re-established good taste and philosophy, and who preserve them. Nevertheless, one asks all the time, what have they done? These gentlemen, no doubt esteemworthy by virtue of their knowledge, wit, and manners, degrade their philosophy by a domineering and lawmaking tone, by an affectation of arrogating to themselves a despotism over literary matters and by their propensity to burn incense to one another everywhere and

endlessly. . . . 10 1117

This flattering sense of being one of an elite was nurtured by the salon, a social institution of peculiar efficacy in generating a spirit of group co- hesiveness. Given the centralization of French social and intellectual Me, at least since the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Parisian salon has always been, like a gambling house, a place in which fortunes are made or lost. Often a salon has been of incalculable assistance in launching an author or, inversely, in wrecking another; and in no epoch was this more evidently true than in the eighteenth century. For that was a sociable age, and the ideas that were transforming society and predisposing it for change were ideas freely canvassed and exchanged in the agreeable leisure of these social hours. The connotation of the word salon, used in this special sense, was of an open house the purpose of which was intellectual discussion. Usually the word implied, too, that the hospitality was extended by a lady, acting as ringmistress, or, as Henry James put it, directing ^through a smiling land, between suggestive shores, a sinuous stream of talk. Although of course D Holbach s was a salon, too, the more typical eighteenth-century salons were those of Mme du Deffand, Mme Geoffrin, Mile de Lespinasse, and Mme Necker.

It took a great deal of skill and tact to run a salon successfully, to gain the respect of temperamental authors and intellectuals, to make them want to come again, to be able to steer a conversation without being obvious, to govern discussions so adroitly that they became neither anarchical nor contentious, to draw out the timid and circumvent the bores. No one was more proficient, more gentle but firm, in the exercise of these skills than Mme Geoffrin, so that her house came to be nicknamed, in deference both to her prestige and to her authority, The Kingdom of Rue Saint-HonoreV " It is still standing, hard by the Place Vendome and the Place de la Concorde, this house which became a rallying point for philosophy, especially by virtue of the famous dinners she gave for men of letters every Wednesday. Artists were fed on Mondays. This is not to say that discussions at Mme Geoffrin s were ever so bold


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and fearless as they were at D Holbach s. Mme Geoffrin was rather timorous and very cautious, so that, as Marmontel remarked, she held Diderot, the most original and prolific thinker of them all, at arm s length. At Mme Geoffrin s, wrote Marmontel, the philosophes were led about and held in leading strings/ 12 But this very prudence and timidity worked to the profit of the Encyclopedists. At the moment when her salon was being opened, wrote a distinguished editor of the Revue des Deux Mondcs, those who were going to form the army of the Encyclopedists were still isolated, strangers, or hostile to one another, and little known or litde appreciated by the public. They grouped themselves at Mme Geoffrin s: at her house they found a center of reunion where they learned to get together, to support one another, and to make common cause. There they submitted to discipline. A lover of propriety and moderation, the mistress of the house prevented them from colliding too violently with public opinion or governmental power, and she saved them from the danger of ruining themselves by their own im patience. 13 This is well said. It may be supplemented by a police report of 1751 about Mme Geoffrin, giving some of the down-to-earth aspects of operating a salon:

There assembles every afternoon at this lady s house a circle of wits, among whom are especially M. de Fontenelle and Helvetius, Farmer General, who are her friends.

She often provides meals.

Also she sells the rarest new books; that is to say, the authors send her a dozen copies and she takes pleasure in making her friends buy them. 1 *

The functioning of a literary circle resembling that of Mme Geoffrin is reflected in the Memoirs of M. de Voltaire by Oliver Goldsmith, who claimed to have been an eyewitness of a spirited dispute involving Fontenelle, Diderot, and Voltaire. This must have occurred, if anything like it really did take place, during 1755, when Goldsmith was in France. It would be pleasant to think that Diderot and Goldsmith were acquainted, but the latter s story is demonstrably inaccurate in part (for Voltaire was not in Paris in 1755 and never met Diderot until 1778), leaving one to fear that perhaps it is false in toto.^

For Diderot the importance of Mme Geoffrin s salon was chiefly indirect. It existed. It was valuable. It provided a powerful support for the new outlook represented by the Encyclopedic. But it functioned almost exclusively without his presence, whether he voluntarily abstained because he disliked


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 224

the constraint that Mme Geoffrin put upon her guests, or whether he was made to feel that she liked him better absent. Certainly there is no evidence of antagonism between them, and she was exceedingly generous with him in respect to money. Yet she distrusted him, for both his manners and ideas made him difficult to manage. As Marmontel remarked, Diderot was not admitted to her dinners. Diderot did not go to Mme Geoffrm s, wrote another of his contemporaries, She feared his impetuosity, the rashness of his opinions, supported, when he was aroused, by a fiery and stirring elo quence. 16 And she herself, writing in 1774 to her protege, the King of Poland, spoke of Diderot in cool and measured terms. He is an upright man/ she wrote, but he is wrongheaded. And he is so wrongly constituted that he neither sees nor hears anything as it really is. He is always like a man in a dream, and who believes everything that he has dreamed/ 17

At about this period Diderot made the acquaintance of a man whose recol lection of their meeting imparts precious information as to what kind of first impression Diderot was likely to make. The new acquaintance was Charles de Brosses, a magistrate from Dijon, who had asked his former schoolmate, Buffon, for an introduction to Diderot, that extraordinary metaphysical head. He is an agreeable fellow,* reported De Brosses, very charming, very likable, a great philosopher, a great arguer, but dealing in perpetual digressions. He made a good twenty-five of them in my room yesterday, from nine o clock to one. 1S

De Brosses was a man of broad intellectual attainments, and he and Diderot quickly became very friendly. Diderot almost importunately solicited from him for publication in the Encyclopedic the manuscript of a long article on Etymology. 19 As De Brosses later described the episode, Diderot kept the manuscript for two or three years in spite of De Brosses s reiterated requests that it be returned for revision. The article that finally came out on this subject in the Encyclopedic, however, was written not by De Brosses but by Turgot, who evidently had used the De Brosses manuscript as a starting point. De Brosses was rather startled at this outcome, although he did not question that Turgot had acted in the best of faith. He was inclined, however, to accuse Diderot of negligence and thoughtlessness. 20 Here we have a glimpse of the careless and nonchalant side of Diderot, whose pos session of such disconcerting although sometimes endearing qualities made dealing with him an experience not infrequently frustrating.

At the time that Diderot made the acquaintance of De Brosses, the Academy of Dijon had just announced a prize contest on the subject, "What


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is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?* Since De Brosses was a member of the Academy of Dijon, Diderot s con versations with him naturally came around to this topic. The subject ap pealed strongly to Diderot, and yet he did not compete for the prize. De Brosses reveals why: Diderot talks to me a great deal about the subject of this prize. He finds it very fine but impossible to deal with under a monarchy. He is a daring philosopher, with a vengeance/ 21

Diderot s friend Jean-Jacques felt no such restrictions. He submitted an essay which, though it did not win the prize, nevertheless became one of his most famous works. In view of the foregoing evidence of Diderot s preoccupation with the subject, it is interesting to speculate upon just how much he may have influenced this essay. Rousseau declared in his Con fessions that the Discourse on Inequality was the work that was more to Diderot s taste than any other of my writings, and for which his counsel was the most useful to me/ Somewhat later Rousseau even identified a passage in the Discourse on Inequality that Diderot had written, but by this time Jean-Jacques was no longer of the persuasion that Diderot had been really helpful. It is certain, he wrote, that M. Diderot always abused my confidence and my compliance in order to impart to my writings a harsh tone and a gloomy air that they no longer had as soon as he ceased to direct me and I was left completely to myself. 22 Recent scholarship is inclined to the view that there may indeed have been in Diderot a vein of primitivism fiercer and more stubborn than in Rousseau himself. 23 Building upon Rous seau s own admission, it is generally supposed that Diderot s share in the ideas incorporated into Rousseau s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality is considerable. 24

As the Encyclopedic went into the letter , one of Diderot s contributions was an article intended to be published under the title of Encaustic/ 25 For some reason he decided to publish it separately, and accordingly there ap peared anonymously in a very small edition in 1755, L Histoire et le secret de la peinture en cire ( The History and Secret of Painting in Wax ). 26 The article Encaustic as it appeared in Volume V was done by another hand. 27

This rather recondite subject was nevertheless topical because of the considerable discussion in Paris just at this time as to precisely what had been the method used by the ancients for painting in wax and for fixing the colors by the application of heat. The technique is very difficult, but gives special effects and is of extraordinary durability. It has been practiced today in this country with remarkable technical and aesthetic success by


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


Karl Zerbe of the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts. One of Diderot s acquaintances, an artist named Bachelier, thought he had rediscovered the ancient technique in 1749, but had done nothing about publicizing it. In 1753 the Comte de Caylus published the first of a series of papers in which he claimed to have deciphered the cryptic passages in Pliny the Elder re garding this ancient technique and therefore to be the first to recover the long-lost method. 28

Caylus, however, made a mystery of the actual technique employed in duplicating the ancient method. This sort of obscurantism in matters re lating to the sciences or the arts, indeed any sort of obscurantism, always infuriated Diderot, and in consequence his pamphlet was as much aimed against Caylus as the Letter on the Blind had been a rebuke of Reaumur. The first words of the new work were: Nothing is more contrary to the progress of knowledge than mystery/ 29 Then he attempted to prove that neither Bachelier, in 1749, nor Caylus had really come upon the true ancient encaustic, but that Bachelier had since discovered it in further experiments. Since Bachelier was trying to keep the discovery secret, Diderot nonchalantly put himself into the invidious position of revealing a secret that was not his property. 1 do not doubt, he wrote, but what M. Bachelier bears me a grudge for publishing his secret. ... But I have my own character and my own fashion of thinking, which I find satisfactory and from which I shall not withdraw for the sake of M. Bachelier. What I know of his methods of painting I owe solely to the pains I took to teach myself regarding it. I promised no one to keep the secret. 30 Diderot s attitude was consistent with his freely bestowing upon the public his own ideas for the improve ment of barrel organs. Nevertheless, with a characteristic impetuosity and lack of second thought and with even a certain officiousness, he deeply .dis obliged both Caylus and Bachelier by what he claimed to be his zeal for the public good.

The Comte was a wealthy amateur and expert who was a sort of dictator, apparently a crotchety and crabbed one, in the world of art. 31 One can well imagine what he thought of Diderot. When an Italian correspondent in nocently happened to inquire in 1761 how Diderot was, Caylus replied, 1 know Diderot very little because I do not esteem him, but I believe he is well. There are certain bougres who don t die, while, to the misfortune of letters in Europe, honest folk like Melot [Anicet Melot (1697-1759), a French antiquarian] die in their prime. 32 And what Diderot thought about Caylus was expressed in an epitaph Diderot wrote in 1765. Caylus had


BUSINESS AND PLEASURE 227

expressed the desire to be buried in an Etruscan urn that was in his garden, and Diderot wrote, in a very well-turned couplet: 33

Ci-git un antiquairc acariatrc et brusque;

Ah! qu il est bicn loge dans cette cruche etrusque! *

The pamphlet on Encaustic is characteristic of Diderot s point o view and redolent of his personality. Time and again he emphasizes the im portance of disseminating knowledge. 34 If it happens/ he writes, that an invention favorable to the progress of the arts and sciences comes to my knowledge, I burn to divulge it: that is my mania. Born communicative as much as it is possible to be, it is too bad that I was not born more inventive: I would have told my ideas to the first comer. Had I but one secret for all my stock in trade, it seems to me that if the general good should require the publication of it, I should prefer to die honestly on a street corner, my back against a post, than to let my fellow men suffer. . . . 35 And he wishes that there might be established a royal academy of the mechanical arts. 36 Moreover, Diderot s interest in the applied, the factual, and the practical (as well as in the generalized and the purely theoretical) is abundantly shown in this booklet. Here is a man who knows as much as any man in his day about the chemistry of paints. Here is an author fully aware of the technical procedures of artists, as well as of their problems of composition and aesthetic intent. The History and Secret of Painting in Wax: reveals also the classicist, able to translate and analyze Pliny s elliptic and obscure remarks. Finally, in this pamphlet which Grimm described as written with much fire, a rapid pace, and much gaiety/ and which Freron declared to be diffuse and overburdened with notes, some of which try to be scien tific and the others amusing* we find the subjective and the personal start ing out at one, especially in the notes. 37 There s a sentence/ Diderot comments concerning a paragraph composed of one single sentence of eighteen lines, Very long and tortuous, which is going to be found displeasing. Were it the only one, I would correct it. 88 At another place he notes that C A11 that follows now seems to me to be out of place; but I have not the courage to delete it. J Then in the next note, If I continue in this vein, I shall not finish in a hundred pages what could be said in ten, and I shall be reproached for having been obscure and diffuse, two faults that usually go together. 3

  • Here lies a crabbed and brusque antiquarian.

Oh, how appropriately lodged is he in this Etruscan jug!


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


And what could be more personal and more revelatory of Diderot s sensitive ness than the following?

. . . we take as great pains to destroy [our masterpieces in painting and sculpture] as they [the Ancients] did to preserve theirs. They had a varnish that they applied to their pictures, their bronzes, and their marbles .... Regularly every year we rub the skin off ours with sponges full of a hard and gritty fluid. ... On the days of this cruel operation I flee from the Tuileries as one flees from a public place on a day of execution. 40

The controversy over encaustic painting created some stir and inspired a pamphlet ridiculing Diderot s. Its translated title is The New An of Painting in Cheese, Invented for Carrying Out the Laudable Project of Gradually Finding Ways of Painting Inferior to Those Now in Existence** This effusion was by an anonymous author whom Freron found diverting and Grimm thought to be in the worst taste since Attila, King of the Huns. 42 Irony upon so lordly a scale apparently discouraged other cham pions from entering the contest. It was all very well for Grimm to grumble, but he and his brothers of kindred spirit did not choose to reply.

It was about this time that Diderot again fell in love, suddenly and violently and enduringly. Little is known of the lady, but evidently she possessed a character very different from and much finer than that of Mme de Puisieux. None of Sophie Volland s letters to Diderot is extant, so that the impression we have of her is very like overhearing one end of a pro tracted telephone conversation. Incomplete and distorted as this way of knowing her personality inevitably is, it is quite apparent that she was modest where Mme de Puisieux was conceited, and self-effacing where Mme de Puisieux was self-assertive. Certainly Diderot found in Sophie Volland the qualities necessary for a lasting attachment, an attachment attenuated perhaps, but never broken off in bitterness enduring the rest of their lives. Sophie Volland died five months before Diderot, and in her will she left him the keepsakes of a long devotion. 1 give and bequeath to M. Diderot seven little volumes of Montaigne s Essays bound in red morocco, together with a ring that I call my Pauline. 5 43

Sophie was a special name. Not the Louise-Henriette of her baptism, but the name given to her by Diderot himself in allusion, by means of the French form of the Greek word, to the wisdom which seemed to him the quintessence of her qualities. 44 It is as Sophie Volland that she has become posthumously famous, the inspirer and recipient of letters unexcelled in their revelation both of a particularly interesting social milieu and of an in finitely rich, complex, and humane personality. Grudge not the elderly


BUSINESS AND PLEASURE 229

spinster her existence, then/ wrote Carlyle in his essay on Diderot. Say not she lived in vain.

Sophie Volland came from a family, perhaps a wealthy one, of the middle class. Her father, Jean-Robert Volland, who died before the lovers met, had been an important functionary in the administration of the government monopoly of salt, and was closely associated, both in business and by mar riage, with the class of financiers and tax farmers whose enormous incomes tended to make them the freest spenders of the ancien regime. The Volland family was not dedicated to this gospel of conspicuous waste, but the father had bought an estate and built a country house at Isle-sur-Marne, near the small city of Vitry-le-Franjois to which Sophie s mother spirited her away for half of each year in order to separate her from Diderot and it is also evident that the family lived comfortably in their town house on the Rue des Vieux-Augustins. This was in a quarter now much run down but at that time conservatively fashionable, close by the Place des Victoires and the grandiose and imposing church of Sainte-Eustache. 45 There is some indication in Diderot s letters that the family when he knew it was less prosperous than it had been.

Sophie had two married sisters, and it is remarkable, considering her family s affluence, that she was not married too. Perhaps, as one biographer of Diderot has surmised, some obscure but unforgotten scandal had impaired her matrimonial chances. 46 When Diderot met her, probably in 1755, per haps in 1756, she was about forty years of age, three years younger than Diderot, having been born on 27 November iji6. 47 What little is known of her mainly concerns the state of her health, which evidently was exceedingly precarious, so much so that Diderot was constantly fussing over her. Very warm days are succeeded by very cool evenings, he wrote her. Watch your health. Don t expose yourself to the evening damp. You know what a weak little cat s chest you have and what terrible colds you are subject to. Two weeks later he wrote, Adieu, my dear. I kiss your forehead, your eyes, your mouth, and your dry little hand, which pleases me quite as much as a plump one. 48 Biographers, having so little to go on, make much of the dry little hand (rnenotte). And they are inclined to speak of Sophie s spectacles in the spirit of Dorothy Parker s remark about girls who wear glasses. It is from my workshop at Le Breton s that I have been writing to you for the past two hours this long, boring letter that you will have a good deal of trouble in deciphering. Just omit, pass over, whatever makes you rub your glasses on your sleeve, Diderot wrote upon one occasion. And upon another, imagining them gathered together at the country house:


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

1 hear you all chattering, I see you all in your favorite attitudes, I would paint you if I had the time. My dear one would be standing erect behind her mother s armchair, facing her sister, and with her spectacles on her


nose. 4 *


Had more of Diderot s letters to Sophie Volland remained in existence, we would not now be so desperately deficient in information regarding her. They are known to have numbered more than five hundred and fifty, but Mile Volland herself destroyed all but one hundred and eighty-seven. 50 More over, the first one hundred and thirty-four, which might very well have been the most interesting of all, have disappeared, and the earliest one we can consult is dated May 1759. We are thus reduced to approximations when attempting to fix the date when the acquaintance began. Mme de Vandeul asserts that her father developed this passion in 1757, when Mme Diderot and little Angelique were on a visit to Langres. 51 But Diderot s own letters suggest 1755 as the date of meeting. In 1767 he writes somewhat vaguely in terms of ten to twelve years, 52 though a year later we find him still talking of a dozen years. 53 There is the same indefiniteness in this passage from a letter of 1765, regarding a carriage trip on the morrow: 1 shall have the pleasure of passing the whole day with her whom I love (which is not surprising, for who would not love her?) but whom I love, after eight or nine years, with the same passion with which she inspired me on the first day that I saw her. We were alone that day, both of us leaning on the little green table. I remember what I said to you, what you replied to me. Oh, the happy time it was, the time of that green table! 54 Earlier references are more precise. One of September 1760 remarks that it will soon be five years since they met; and in October of 1759 he writes, It was four years ago that you appeared beautiful in my eyes. Today I find you more beautiful than ever. This is the magic of constancy, the most difficult and the rarest of our virtues. 55

A good deal of ink has been spilled, perhaps rather needlessly, in speculation as to whether Diderot and Sophie Volland were really lovers or just good friends. Were Diderot s affections platonic ? This is certainly a problem of appropriate biographical interest, but one concerning which a non-French biographer might well defer to French expertise. It may be reported, there fore, that persons deserving to be regarded as connoisseurs in such matters, as, for example, a member of the Academic Goncourt or, for another, the author of a book entitled La Vie amoureuse de Diderot, have weightily considered the evidence. The majority conclude as most people would


BUSINESS AND PLEASURE 23!

have assumed from the start that Sophie allowed Diderot what is delicately termed the ultimate liberties. 5 56

Much of what is known about Diderot, the most revealing and the most precious information, comes from his correspondence with Sophie Volland. It is posterity s loss that, in contrast, so little is known of Sophie herself. Was the quality of her mind what Diderot thought it to be, or did he mis take the echoing of his own ideas as the evidence of a powerful intelligence in her? It would not have been the first or last time that Diderot admired himself by seeing in a person or a book something that was not there but was simply a projection of his own personality. Besides, Diderot was given to some exaggeration in these matters, as when he wrote in his Essay on Women, When one writes of women, one must dip one s pen in the rainbow and dry the line with the dust of butterflies wings. 5T A reader of the letters may easily sentimentalize with Diderot about Sophie Volland and perhaps invest her with a character and characteristics that she is not positively known to have possessed. But at the very least it can be said with certainty that Diderot s second mistress was better than the first. And it can also be said, in view of the contents of these letters, that she can scarcely be thought a prude.


CHAPTER I 8


Changing the General Way of Thinking


D 1


DIDEROT was far from well during the closing months of 1755. In late September he alluded to his illness in a letter to Caroillon at Langres: I have been and still am pretty badly off in my own affairs. I have had my whole chest affected. A dry cough. Terrible sweats, difficulty in speaking and breathing. But things are going much better, at the price of a drastic remedy: bread, water, and milk for my whole diet. Milk in the morning, milk at noon, milk at "tea- time," milk at supper. That s a lot of milk/ 1 In circumstances so adverse and for most Frenchmen (save perhaps M. Mendes-France), to have to cope with that much milk is real adversity Diderot continued his task of editing the Encyclopedic and writing articles for it. In particular, he com posed his article Encyclopedia for Volume V during this difficult time. Rousseau mentioned the article as being the admiration of all Paris/ and then went on to say, what will increase your astonishment when you read it is the fact that he wrote it while ill. 2

Despite this sickness, Volume V was delivered to subscribers during the first days of November. 3 Like its sisters, it was a portly folio volume, a thou sand pages and more, and carried the alphabet to ESY. Its title page took cognizance of D Alembert s new honors, mentioning that he was a member of the French Academy, the Royal Academy of Belles-Lettres of Sweden, and the Institute of Bologna. As usual, new contributors were welcomed to the fold, especially Voltaire, whose articles on Elegance, Eloquence, and Esprit were not only elegant but also concise, a virtue not always char acterizing the Encyclopedias contents.

Once again a lengthy memoir by D Alembert formed the introduction. This one concerned Montesquieu, who had died in February 1755 - Diderot, incidentally, happening to be the only man of letters present at the funeral. 4 Montesquieu had never engaged very deeply in the cause of the Encyclopedic,

23*


CHANGING THE GENERAL WAY OF THINKING 233

but with the French proclivity for making political capital out of funerals, the editors appropriated him. Their excuse was that he was a contributor, having written the article on Taste (Gout), a rather mediocre fragment as it turned out. Posterity is accustomed to regard the author of UEsprit des lots with a good deal of veneration, as did, for example, the authors of the Federalist Papers, but in his own lifetime and in his own country con servatives looked upon Montesquieu with great disapprobation because he seemed to be too fond of talking about the nature of liberty and too pointed in implying that France had very little of it. Moreover, his positive and factual rather than theological approach to the study of history and politics offended many. To reactionaries Montesquieu seemed radical, and it was characteristic of the editors of die Encyclopedic to desire to make him their own. This they did not only in their introductory memoir but also in the course of an article by Diderot on Eclecticism, written like many others of his with a sudden flashing swoop from the objective to the personal which seems so out of place in a work of reference but which is probably one of the major causes of this one s success. Having commented morosely upon society s neglect and abuse of genius, he remarked, I wrote these reflections on ii February 1755, upon returning from the funeral of one of our greatest men, overcome by the loss that the nation and the world of letters had sus tained in his person, and profoundly shocked by the persecutions that he had undergone. 5

One of the principal articles in Volume V was written by Diderot on Natural Right (Droit naturel). This was a subject in the vein of the great natural lawyers of the preceding century, men like Grotius and Pufendorf, so that a highly competent political philosopher has been able to say with some justification of Diderot s article that it was a rhetorical flourish with conventional ideas/ 6 Still, this was a topic difficult to discuss with frankness in the France of the eighteenth century. Diderot did discuss it. His article, being in the tradition of the natural law school, contributed to keeping concepts current that later provided the inspiration for documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Diderot wrote of man s dignity and in 1755 of his inalien able rights, T and frequently referred to the general will/ This phrase has become so deeply associated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his idea of the social contract that Montesquieu s earlier use of the term in UEsprit des lots seems to have become generally forgotten. 8 In Volume V of the Encyclopedic both Diderot, in his article on Droit naturel, and Rousseau, in his on Economy/ used the term with some of the identical overtones of meaning


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


that are found in the Social Contract seven years later. 9 Thus Diderot wrote that Individual wills are under suspicion: they might be good or bad, but the general will is always good. It has never deceived, it never will . . . the general will never errs/ 10 It is therefore possible that one of the two borrowed the term from the other, but, if so, very unclear who from whom. 11 At all events, when one begins to use the phrase, the general will, the concept of popular sovereignty commences to stir. As De Jaucourt had the courage to write, and Diderot to publish, in the article on Government/ all legitimate sovereign power must emanate from the free consent of the people.* 12

Articles like these were prophetic. And it is worthy of notice that Volume V dared to begin publishing again the liberal political articles for which Diderot had been so severely criticized when he wrote and published the essay on Authority in Volume I. His article on Natural Right, Rousseau s on Economy, and De Jaucourt s on Natural Equality (Egalite naturelle) expound ideas that already have the smell of 1776 and 1789. Nor did the significance of their publication in the Encyclopedic escape the observation of contemporaries. If one is ever tempted to suppose that the political views expressed in the Encyclopedic were so hesitant and timid as to be innocuous, let him recall the words of a British reviewer writing in 1768, words wherein a generous-minded liberalism may be seen contending with an English jealousy of French progress: We must observe likewise, to the honour of the authors who have had the conduct of the Encyclopedic, that the same manly freedom of sentiment which is observable in the philosophical and other departments of this work, is eminently conspicuous in the political. In short, whoever takes the trouble of combining the several political articles, will find that they form a noble system of civil liberty; and however, as Englishmen, we may have no reason to rejoice at the prospect of a gradual establishment of such a system among our rivals, yet as friends to the rights of mankind, we are delighted to see such a generous system every where expanding its influence. 13

As for the economic philosophy of the Encyclopedic, it is nowhere better depicted than in the long article on Thrift (Epargne) contributed by an obscure boarding school director named Faiguet. Reminiscent of, say, Ben jamin Franklin, it was an extraordinary piece to appear in 1755 in the midst of a monarchical and aristocratic society. For its values were middle-class values, very far indeed from those of the nobility. There is something sym bolic in M. Faiguet s personal insignificance. He is faceless, which makes him the better representative of a class, the class that made the French


CHANGING THE GENERAL WAY OF THINKING 235

Revolution. This was the class that, like M. Faiguet, regarded thrift as a cardinal virtue and, like M. Faiguet too, wanted the medieval guild restric tions on production abolished; desired the abolition of apprenticeships and journeymen s associations; wanted the abolition of Colbertism by removing the obstacles on every hand regarding the transport and sale of merchandise and foodstuffs ; and further desired the suppression of three-fourths of our religious holidays. M. Faiguet had a keen eye for the labor supply: he wanted the state to limit the number of persons admitted to religious orders. He thought that thrift would be encouraged by placing much more severe limitations on drinking places: The cabarets, being always open, disorder our workers so thoroughly that one cannot ordinarily count upon them nor see the end of a job once commenced/ He favored the institution of state-owned pawn shops which could also serve as banks of deposit. By this means there would circulate an infinity of sums great and small that remain today in inactivity. M. Faiguet was much opposed to luxury, the taste for which he imputed to the mistaken education of the day. Nothing is more to be recommended to young folk than this virtuous habit [of thrift], which would become for them a preservative against vice. . . . Prizes in eloquence and poetry have been founded in a thousand places. Who will found among us prizes for thrift and frugality?* 14 M. Faiguet deserves immortality: he is the disembodied voice of an upthrusting bourgeoisie.

Among the articles descriptive of manufacturing or artistic processes that Diderot wrote for Volume V were those on distillation of brandy (Eau-de- vie) and on Enamel (Email) . In the latter he introduced the personal note by mentioning a certain artist and saying, I do myself the honor of being a friend of the last named/ 15 D Alembert, too, permitted himself the luxury of personal remarks now and again in this volume, as when he praised Diderot s Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature or launched forth in castigation of the clandestine Jansenist newspaper, Les Nouvelles Ecclesiastiques. The anonymous author of this work, wrote D Alembert, . . . could probably name himself without being better known. 16 Also in Volume V, to take some samples, were an interesting article on Copyright (Droit de copie), contributed by David, one of the publishers of the Ency clopedic, and an article on Duels written by Boucher d Argis. Of very special interest to economists is the article on how pins are made (Epingle), con tributed by a young friend of Diderot and Rousseau named Deleyre. Follow ing the usual Encyclopedic pattern of meticulously describing manufacturing processes, Deleyre mentioned eighteen separate stages in the manufacture of a pin. This article gives us some means of judging how diffused the


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


influence of the Encyclopedic could be, even though not always acknowledged. Surely it is not simply a coincidence that in the first chapter of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith illustrates his doctrine regarding the division of labor by choosing the now famous example of the lowly pin. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations . . . 17

In Volume V Diderot continued his practice of writing long and important articles on the history of philosophy, such as his account of the Eleatics. No doubt Diderot devoted this liberal amount of space to the leaders of this school because their teachings were materialistic. 18 Similarly, the article on Epicureanism was long, detailed, and full of loving fondness, although it purported to do no more than allow Epicurus to speak for himself. 10 The article Egyptians gave Diderot the opportunity to declare that Moses was a disciple of the Egyptian priests, thereby undercutting the orthodox Christian contention that the Mosaic books portrayed original man and the earliest societies. Also he could speak disparagingly of priests in general while ostensibly discussing the priesthood of pagan Egypt. 20

Writers of the Enlightenment rather commonly emphasized the antiquity of the Egyptians, a point they seem to have learned from Lord Shaftesbury. 21 This appealed particularly to the philosophes because it permitted them to indulge their distaste for revealed religion by insinuating that the laws of Moses were simply cultural borrowings. 22 The necessities of polemics there fore gave the views of the philosophes, rather fortuitously, an anti-Jewish cast. This was a field in which the playful Voltaire loved to caper. The Encyclopedic, too, did what it could to attack the fundamentalist assertion that the Pentateuch provided the only acceptable and allowable view of historical origins. Diderot and his colleagues, because of this dialectical neces sity, were unfair to the Jews, unfair in the first place because they were insufficiently informed. Diderot, who wrote his article on Jews in 1754, would have been more accurate, says Herr Sanger in his monograph on this subject, had he consulted rabbis. 23 And the philosophes were unfair in the second place because of their inability to appreciate religious genius and religious insights in any group. This was an area of human experience in which the Enlightenment was likely to be astigmatic. Consequently Diderot could interpose in his account of the Jews the following extremely unsym-


CHANGING THE GENERAL WAY OF THINKING* 237

pathetic notice: It will not be useless to warn the reader that one ought not to expect to find among the Jews either accuracy in their ideas, or exactitude in their reasoning, or precision in their style in a word, anything that ought to characterize a sound doctrine of philosophy. On the contrary, there is to be found among them only a confused mixture of the principles of reason and of revelation, an affected and often impenetrable obscurity, principles that lead to fanaticism, a blind respect for the authority of the doctors and of antiquity in a word, all the defects indicative of an ignorant and superstitious nation. 24

The article Eclecticism 7 is precious to a biographer because in it Diderot allows the reader insight into what he thought of himself. A long and quite diffuse article, it is frequently illuminated by flashes of value judg ment or by remarks of a very subjective character. Diderot not only defines what it is to be an eclectic, he patently thinks himself to be one. For surely he does not want to exclude himself from the company that he describes in his opening words: The eclectic is a philosopher who, trampling under foot prejudice, tradition, vener ability, universal assent, authority in a word, everything that overawes the crowd dares to think for himself, to ascend to the clearest general principles, to examine them, to discuss them, to admit nothing save on the testimony of his own reason and experience; and from all the philosophies he has analyzed without favor and without partiality, to make one for himself, individual and personal, belonging to him. Diderot next asserts what all eclectics emphasize, namely that they are not syncretists, a term of opprobrium that an eclecdc uses for any eclecticism not his own. Nothing is so common as syncretists, nothing so rare as eclectics/ He then discusses the eclectics of the ancient world at great length, finding the greatest exemplar to be, of all people, Julian the Apostate. (It is a wonder that the censors allowed so much as the mention of the Emperor Julian in any context that might be construed as favorable.) Modern eclectics, according to Diderot (and with his emphasis), were those cultivating experimental philosophy: Eclecticism, this philosophy so reason able, which had been practiced by geniuses of the first order long before it had a name, remained forgotten until the end of the sixteenth century. Then Nature . . . produced at last certain men covetous of humanity s finest prerogative, the liberty of thinking for oneself, and the eclectic phi losophy was seen to be reborn under Giordano Bruno, Jerome Cardan, Francis Bacon, Thomas Campanella, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes . . . William Leibniz. . . . 25 Obviously Diderot was calling the roll of names among which he hoped posterity would place his own as of a peer.


o DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

238

Probably the most important single article in the whole seventeen volumes of the Encyclopedic was the one written by Diderot on Encyclopedia. By its richly textured consideration, first of what an encyclopedia is for, and then of an encyclopedia s relationship to language, science, and knowledge in general, Diderot s article was comparable in significance and scope to D Alembert s Preliminary Discourse. And the two were alike in their faith in progress, a faith which was one of the principal tenets in the gospel of the philosophy In fact/ wrote Diderot in the first paragraph, c the aim of an Encyclopedia is to gather together the knowledge scattered over the face of the earth ... that our descendants, being better instructed, may become at the same time more virtuous and more happy; and that we may not die without having deserved well of the human race.

There is a printer s mystery regarding this article, for it was published with page numbers on the eye-catching right-hand page, but with no pagination on the left-hand pages. Thus there are actually thirty-one pages between those numbered 633 and 649, a circumstance which naturally makes the reader wonder. Could it be that an article half the length was submitted to the censors, then one double the length inserted instead? Or was it that Diderot s illness delayed him in writing the article? The volume may have had to be put in page proof before his article was ready; but the article may have turned out to be twice as long as planned for, thus necessitating this unusual procedure. 26

The article Encyclopedia is a little book in itself, some 34,000 words in length Such are the first ideas that offered themselves to my mind, wrote Diderot in closing on the project of a universal and systematic dictionary of human knowledge: on the possibility of it, its object, the arrangement of its materials both general and detailed, its style, method, cross references, nomenclature, its manuscript, authors, censors, editors, and typography. It can well be imagined that when Diderot spread his net so wide, he caught a lot of fish. For instance, he descanted at length in the early part of the article on problems of linguistics. Profoundly impressed with how difficult it is to achieve accurate definitions, he wrote more like the scientist than like the creative artist who knows that words are symbols or hieroglyphs and therefore cannot be completely fixed. For he knew that the increase of knowledge necessitates an accurate and expanding vocabulary to implement it and he hoped that the Encyclopedic or a similar venture could assist in the fixation of language. This would be extensive, including not only all aspects of definition but even an analysis of sounds and a drastic orthographic


CHANGING THE GENERAL WAY OF THINKING 239

reform by which spelling would become completely phonetic. In illustra tion he compared the current French and English phonetic rendering of a line of Greek verse, and in so doing conceived of something closely resembling the alphabet of the International Phonetic Association. Diderot may there fore be considered one of the pioneers in the emergent science of linguistics, although a modern expert has remarked, as a linguistic theorist his mind was of too meteoric a nature to submit to that patient discipline, that laborious exploration of linguistic facts which alone were capable of laying the foundations of a science of language. 27

Diderot disarmed critics of the Encyclopedic by candidly acknowledging defects. First he invited his reader to visualize the problems involved in se curing a proper balance and proportion among the multitudinous articles in the work. Even if one man could write every entry, the problem would still be formidable. And he who supposes that he has taken precautions with his colleagues so that the contributed material will square approximately with his plan is a man who has no idea of his object or of his colleagues. Some contributions will be too laconic, some too prolix. The proof of it is evident in a hundred places in this work. ... In one place we are like skeletons; in another, we have a dropsical appearance. We are alternatively dwarfs and giants, colossi and pygmies; erect, well-made, and well-pro portioned, humpbacked, limping, and deformed. As for the prolixity of some of the articles, emulation among the contributors had the effect of producing dissertations instead of articles. Time and subsequent editions would take care of this. Besides, new inventions and new ideas necessarily introducing a disproportion; and the first edition being, of all, the one con taining the greatest number of subjects that, if not newly invented, are at least as little known as if they had this characteristic, it is evident . . , that this is the edition in which will reign the most disorder, but which, on the other hand, will exhibit, through all its irregularities, an original air that only with difficulty will pass over into subsequent editions.* 2S

Diderot was not so fatuous as to suppose that the Encyclopedic would not be superseded: If our dictionary is good, how many works will it produce that are better! 29 Repeatedly he wrote of the necessity of succeeding editions, as when he said explicitly that the first edition of an encyclopedia can be only a very incomplete and formless compilation. 30 These admissions, as also the one about being either skeletal or dropsical, were promptly seized upon by his enemies, though this self-criticism has enhanced rather than decreased the estimation of the work by impartial critics. Diderot was never


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


in doubt about the project itself, however, and constantly spoke of it in the ringing tones of a man who believes that the spread of knowledge will make mankind happier and better.

Occasionally in this long article Diderot allowed his reader to glimpse some of the editorial problems that had to be contended with: I examine our work without partiality; I see that there is perhaps not a single sort of error that we have not committed; and I am forced to admit that of an Encyclo pedic like ours, scarcely two-thirds of it would be included in a true Ency clopedia. That is a great deal, especially if one acknowledges that in laying the first foundations of such a work, one was forced to take for a basis some inferior author or other, whether Chambers, Alsted, or some other. There is almost no one of our colleagues who could have been persuaded to work, if it had been proposed to him to compose all his assignment from the be ginning; each would have been intimidated, and the Encyclopedic would not have been done. But by presenting to each one a roll of paper that had only to be re-examined, corrected, expanded, the work of creating, which is always what one dreads, disappeared and each, from a presumption that could not have been more chimerical, allowed himself to engage to do the work; for these disconnected fragments were so incomplete, so badly written, so poorly translated, so full of omissions, errors, and inaccuracies, so contrary to the ideas of our colleagues, that most of them threw them aside. Would that they had all had the same courage! . , . How much time lost in trans lating inferior things! What expenditures in order to obtain a continual plagiarism! S1 Elsewhere Diderot remarked on his colleagues propensity to quote verse, an inclination he discouraged save in articles on literary subjects; on the prolixity of contributors, encouraged, if not justified, by the editors own; on the difficulty, and yet the importance, of keeping a proper balance; on the impracticability of insisting that the entire manu script be turned in before the printing was begun, with consequent blunders and omissions in regard to cross references; and on the very particular difficulty of getting accurate information about the arts and crafts. 32 Re garding this last difficulty, he wrote: But as the arts have been the principal object of my work, I am going to explain myself candidly, both concerning the mistakes I have made and the precautions that would need to be taken to correct them.

He who would take upon himself the subject matter of the arts will not acquit himself of his labors in a satisfactory manner either for others or for himself, if he has not profoundly studied natural history, especially mineralogy; if he is not an excellent mechanic; if he is not well versed in


CHANGING THE GENERAL WAY OF THINKING 241

theoretical and experimental physics; and if he has not taken several courses in chemistry. 33

These rigorous requirements of an editor were more than hypothetical to Diderot for at this very time he was attending the lectures and demonstra tions given at the Jardin du Roy by Rouelle, the leading French chemist of his day. For three consecutive years Diderot attended these lectures, and copies of the notes he took are still in existence. 34 In addition, he wrote a very engaging and informative character sketch of this eccentric and single- minded scientist. 35

Having launched on a discussion of all the qualifications necessary to one hopeful of describing the arts and crafts, Diderot particularly mentions the problem of securing information from craftsmen: He [who would correct the articles on the arts] will not be long in perceiving that, in spite of all the care we have taken, there have slipped into the work some gross blunders (see the article "Brique"), and that there are whole articles that do not have a shadow of common sense (see the article "Blanc his serie de toiles"} ; but he will learn by his own experience to thank us for the things done well and pardon us for those done ill. Especially will he learn, after having for some time gone from workshop to workshop with cash in his hand and after having paid dearly for the most preposterous misinformation, what sort of people craftsmen are, especially those at Paris, where the fear of taxes makes them perpetually suspicious, and where they look upon any person who interrogates them with any curiosity as an emissary of the tax farmers, or as a worker who wants to open shop. 36

It was in this article that subscribers were first told about the engravings that were to illustrate the work, none having yet been published. Diderot announced that we have about a thousand plates. 5 The account book of the publishers shows that there had indeed been much activity in this depart ment, with disbursements beginning in 1748. In 1751, very frequent and sub stantial payments began, especially to a man named Goussier, who ultimately did the drawings for more than nine hundred of the finished plates. 37 More over, they were superior ones. In spite of the prodigious number of figures that fill them, we have paid attention to admitting scarcely any that do not represent a machine now in existence and working. Let our volumes be compared with the collection of Ramelli [1588] which is praised so highly, the Theatrum machinarum [1724-7] of Leupold, or even the volumes of machines approved by the Academic des Sciences, and then one can judge whether, of all these volumes put together, it would be possible to take twenty plates from them worthy of inclusion in such a collection as we


242 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

have had the courage to conceive and the good fortune to execute. There is nothing here that is superfluous or superannuated or imaginary: every thing in it is in action and alive/ 38

This was the first occasion but not the last when the engravings done for the Encyclopedic and those for the Royal Academy of Sciences were contrasted and compared. In 1675 Colbert, the great minister of Louis XIV, had requested the Royal Academy to publish a series of illustrations and explanations concerning the machines used in the arts and crafts, 39 The preparation of these drawings and engravings continued sporadically and dilatorily for decades, with Reaumur more responsible for them than anyone else; and the result was that the Encyclopedic was announced and its pub lication far advanced before the Academy of Sciences, under the spur of competition, finally published its first fascicle, that on Charcoal Burning, in 1761.

Meanwhile Diderot and the publishers of the Encyclopedic had procured for their examination and comparison copies of a good many of the various Academy prints that had been engraved but not yet published. Diderot says as much in the passage just quoted, and it is unlikely that he would have called attention to this proceeding, and in so public a way, if he had supposed that there was anything dishonest about it. 40 Reaumur, however, evidently regarded it so and said as much to Formey who, about this time, was toying with the idea of editing an encyclopedia himself. 41 Apparently he had written to Reaumur inquiring about engravings, for the latter replied on 23 February 1756, 1 have had more than a hundred and fifty plates engraved in folio size, they being very pleasing pictures, and I have many others that are only drawings. I could have made the whole literary world resound with my cries over the theft that has been done me of the first- named and taken steps to have justice done. The infidelity and negligence of my engravers, of whom several are dead, have made it easy for people with little delicacy regarding their methods to collect proofs of these plates, and they have been engraved anew in order to insert them in the encyclo pedical Dictionary. I have learned somewhat tardily that the fruits of so many years of labor have been taken away from me. I have preferred to appear to be ignorant of it than to trouble my repose by reclaiming my property. The only other time he had ever discussed the matter, Reaumur went on to say, was in a letter to his friend the German metaphysician Christian Wolff, now dead two years. 42

It is hard to pronounce upon the amount of moral turpitude involved in this incident. If Reaumur was convinced that a serious theft had occurred,


CHANGING THE GENERAL WAY OF THINKING* 243

how does it happen that he regarded it as a matter that concerned only himself and not the Academy of Sciences? Moreover, he writes to foreign scholars about it, but evidently takes care not to say anything about it in France, alleging a desire to keep his peace of mind. But if a theft had really occurred, it would certainly seem that an investigation was in order. Indeed, this was precisely what the publishers of the Encyclopedic demanded at once when the allegation of theft and plagiarism was made public in 1759, two years after Reaumur s death. As a result, the official commission of the Academy of Sciences testified that we have recognized nothing in the Encyclopedic prints that was copied after the plates of M. de Reaumur. 43 There is no question that Diderot and his publishers had had in their pos session some of the Academy of Science proofs, depriving Diderot of the right to claim credit for originating plans for the attractive drawings in perspective illustrating the processes in each art or craft. Both works used this device, and the Academy of Sciences can clearly claim priority. But unless there was intent to defraud, there could be no moral turpitude in possessing some of the proofs of a languishing enterprise that had been begun seventy-five years previously and had not even yet made any an nouncement of intending publication. 44

Diderot s discussion of the Encyclopedias cross-reference system in his article Encyclopedia is amazingly frank. He explained at great length the organic relationship of subjects that the editors hoped to accomplish by the skillful use of cross references and, surprisingly enough, he described with complete candor the ideological purpose of the Encyclopedias system. For cross references can be used, he wrote, to contrast conflicting principles and to overthrow ridiculous opinions that cannot be frontally attacked. The entire work would receive [from such cross references] an internal force and secret utility, the noiseless effects of which would necessarily become perceptible with time. For example, every time a national prejudice requires respect, it should respectfully be set forth, at the appropriate place, with all its accompaniments of verisimilitude and seduction; but the edifice of mud ought to be overthrown, the useless accumulation of dust be dissipated, by referring to articles where solid principles serve as a basis for opposing truths. This manner of disabusing men operates very quickly upon good understandings; and it operates infallibly on every mind and without dis agreeable consequences, secretly and without creating a sensation. It is the art of tacitly deducing the most radical conclusions. If these cross references of confirmation or refutation are foreseen far ahead of time and prepared with skill, they will give to an encyclopedia the character that a good die-


~ AA DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

244

tionary ought to have, namely the character of changing the general way

of thinking. 45

It seems clear that Diderot had France s established religion in mind when he referred to a national prejudice. His revelation of the uses to which his cross references were put not unnaturally had repercussions. It was made the subject of a considerable amount of animadversion, as was also an in cidental remark of his that caused the Archbishop of Paris to write in protest to Malesherbes. I join to my letter/ wrote Christophe de Beaumont, <a note of what is to be read in the fifth volume of the encyclopedic dictionary, page 635 at the word "Encyclopedia " You will see that the Sorbonne is therein spoken of in a very indecent manner by asserting that it could furnish to the Encyclopedic only theology, sacred history, and superstitions. To regard the science of religion as a source of superstition is to attack religion itself. It is very regrettable that the censors did not notice an error like this, and I hope that you will have no objection to giving the necessary orders so that it may be corrected or at least amends be made. 4G Amends of a sort were made. The list of errata in Volume VI declared that the passage, which contrary to our intention some persons have found am biguous, should read Geology, sacred history, and the history of super stitions. Diderot s explanation, which in reality rendered his original motives more inscrutable than ever, did not reveal a high degree of penitence.

Of course when Diderot allowed himself to speak this way about the Sorbonne, he was thinking of the troubles involving the Abbe de Prades. This is but one instance of his using the article Encyclopedia as a vehicle for the expression of his animosities, his likes, and his personal ambitions. He begins and ends his long article by sneering at the Jesuits and their Dictionnaire de Trevoux; he asserts aggressively that among those who have set themselves up for censors of the Encyclopedic, there is scarcely one with the talent necessary for enriching it with one good article ; he scolds the French Academy for not finishing its dictionary and then broadly hints that he would be capable of doing so himself if he were a member; he breaks forth in praise of a personal friend *O Rousseau! my dear and worthy friend ; he boasts of having taught his fellow citizens to esteem and read Francis Bacon; he apologizes for himself, managing to praise himself at the same time, and betrays his true opinion of himself, one feels quite sure, as he defines his conception of the ideal editor for a work of this sort. *A man endowed with great good sense, celebrated by the breadth of his knowledge, the elevation of his feelings and conceptions, and his love for work; a man loved and respected both for his private and his public char-



This engraving (1763) from the Encyclopedic illustrates articles on the craft of cutlery written by Diderot himself. Tile shop shown is that of a Parisian cutler rather than the establishment of Diderot s father at Langres.


CHANGING THE GENERAL WAY OP THINKING* 245

acter; never a frenzied enthusiast, save for truth, virtue, and humanity. 5 47 Truth, virtue, and humanity! Shining words. In their names Diderot led the assault upon minds apprehensive of change and defended himself from the allegations that he was subversive and unvirtuous. Diderot s enemies, and the enemies of the philosophes in general, constantly maintained that religious orthodoxy and right conduct were inseparable, and that one could not truly have the one without the other. This Diderot, believing as he did, emphatically denied, and he was always at pains to insist that to be a philosophe was necessarily to be virtuous. He never tired of asserting his probity and proclaiming his virtue, or of calling himself a good man, an homme de bien. Partly, perhaps mostly, it was because he was convinced of it; partly it was to combat the narrow-mindedness of those who would like everyone to believe that an unorthodox man must necessarily be a vicious one.

The moral note is struck more than once in Diderot s article Encyclopedia. He speaks of inspiring the taste for knowledge, the horror of lying and of vice, and the love of virtue; for whatever has not happiness and virtue for its ultimate end is nothing, and later on he remarks that it is at least as important to make men better as to make them less ignorant. 5 4S There is in Diderot s manner of thinking a constant relating of truth to man and the ends of man. Truth not only exists of itself: it becomes usable only when humanly apperceived. This pronounced humanism in Diderot s thought so pronounced that it has appropriately given the title L Humanisme de Diderot to one of the best critical works concerning him is well expressed by a passage in the article Encyclopedia : A consideration that above all must not be lost from view is that if man, or the thinking and contemplative being, is banished from the surface of the earth, this pathetic and sublime spectacle of nature becomes nothing but a mute and melancholy scene. . . . Why not [therefore] introduce man in our work as he is placed in the universe? Why not make of him a common center? . . . Man is the sole and only limit whence one must start and back to whom everything must return, if one wishes to please, interest, touch, even in the most arid con siderations and the driest details. Setting aside my own existence and the happiness of my fellow beings, what does the rest of nature matter to me? 49 This insistence that knowledge to be meaningful must be related to man made of Diderot something more than a scientist some people might say it made him less than one. But Diderot s humanism explains why he is so interested in ethics, why the search for the bases of moral sanction has for him so great a fascination. The ideal of the philosophe, as Diderot accepted


246 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

it for his Encyclopedic article Philosopher, was humanistic and social, the ideal of a thinker interested in his fellow man. Now, because this ideal was so humanistic and social and so little religious or theological Diderot time and again appealed for his ultimate justification to the unprejudiced judgment of his peers. And since contemporaries are likely to be prejudiced, Diderot turned to posterity for the comforting sense of ultimate justification. Thus, after describing all the difficulties attendant upon completing an encyclopedia, he writes: We have seen that the Encyclopedie could be the effort of only a philosophical century; that this century has arrived; that renown, while carrying to immortality the names of those who will finish it, will perhaps not disdain to take care of ours; and we have felt our selves reanimated by an idea so consoling and so sweet, that we too shall be spoken of when we shall no longer exist; [reanimated] by this captivating murmur which gives us to understand, from the lips of some of our con temporaries, what shall be said about us by men to whose instruction and happiness we have sacrificed ourselves, whom we have esteemed and loved although they are not yet born/ 50

Posterity shall judge, wrote Diderot. 51 For posterity, in Diderot s eyes, was the supreme court.


CHAPTER 19


Growing Tension with Rousseau: Only the Bad Man Lives Alone


DIDEROT was a man expansive in temperament and rich in the outpourings of his imagination, sym pathy, and sensitivity. Yet he also had a vein of cool and unemotional scientific objectivity which almost always came into play when his meta physical views were at stake. An example of this capacity to remain detached when others are suffering is shown by his neutral attitude toward the greatest public disaster of the eighteenth century. Many of his contemporaries were saddened, their fondest convictions - undermined, by the earthquake at Lisbon on i November 1755 which wiped out the lives of many thousands within a few minutes. The earthquake not only shook Lisbon, it shook Voltaire, who had been living in a rather happy deistic faith. The impassive inscrutability and indiscriminacy of the event caused Voltaire to question shudderingly God s ways to man. To this questioning we owe Candide. But it is characteristic of Diderot, with his strictly naturalistic conception of a universe that he thought could be explained without having to pred icate God, that the Lisbon earthquake presented him with no intellectual problem whatever. 1

In the following year Frederick the Great precipitated the Seven Years War by his incursion into Saxony. This was the war that saw the exploits of Montcalm and Wolfe in Canada and of Clive in India, a war which permanently affected the political destinies of a considerable fraction of mankind. This was the year of the Diplomatic Revolution, when France, since the days of Cardinal Richelieu the archenemy of the Hapsburgs, re versed her alliance system and became the ally of Maria-Theresa. It was the beginning of a war in which the luster of French arms at first was brightened by the capture of Port Mahon, only to be tarnished by the

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g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

humiliation of Rossbach; a war in which the monarchy o Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour frittered away the substance of colonial and mari time power in exchange for some vague dream of Continental hegemony. The prestige and the finances of France suffered grievously in the Seven Years War, and it may be accounted one of the predisposing causes for the later alliance with the infant United States, for instance, as well as for the Revolution of 1789 itself. Militarily and intellectually, the decade of the fifties was the decisive one in the history of France in the eighteenth

century.

It is surprising to find Diderot scarcely aware of the Seven Years War or its implications. He, a leader in one of the two great changes occurring in the life of his time, was oddly insensitive to the other. Save for the incident in his Fils naturel of the capture and imprisonment of Rosalie s father by the British plus a reference in his Pere de jamille to an episode in the Port Mahon campaign, neither Diderot s writings nor his letters refer to the war. It seems to have affected him only in regard to Grimm, who was attached to the staff of a French marshal for a few months in 1757 on campaign in Westphalia. 2 During these years of 1756-63 we shall hear much of Diderot s tribulations, for this was the time of his greatest trials and, in view of his spirited conduct in the face of great adversity, his nearest approach to heroism. And as if his personal life had absorbed all his energies, he lived through these years as though buffeted by everything except the war itself.

Diderot s correspondence in 1756 shows him now and again in that mood of heated and self-righteous expostulation that he easily fell into, and there is a note of distinct acerbity and irritability in his relations with people at this time that may be a symptom of overwork or a consequence of lingering ill health. One of these occasions had to do with a lawsuit over the appoint ment to a priory in which his younger brother, the Abbe, had become in volved. Mme de Vandeul says that her father put himself to incredible trouble in accommodating this matter, and we see Diderot working on it in a couple of letters written to his litigious and unconciliatory brother. Of the Abbe s opponent Diderot wrote, *I believe M. le Chevalier a very honest man, even though he be a good Christian ! And a few days later, washing his hands of the affair, Diderot wrote, You have written me the letter of a litigant and a fanatic. If these are the two qualities that are con ferred upon you by your religion, I am very content with mine, and I hope not to change it. 3 No doubt the Abbe Diderot was a very difficult person, but letters like this were scarcely calculated to sweeten the temper.

Another of these expostulatory outbursts occurred in a long letter written


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by Diderot in the summer of 1756 to a contributor to the Encyclopedic, probably Paul Landois. 4 Landois was an obscure writer of whom very little is known save that he wrote a one-act tragedy in 1742, Sylvie by name, which was in prose and dealt with the affairs of run-of-the-mill humanity, not personages of exalted rank. This tragedy, with its one act, its ordinary people, its prose, and its explicit stage directions, flouted so many of the established traditions of the French theater that it deserves remembering as an early exemplar of the reforms that Diderot expounded fifteen years later. In 1756 Landois, who contributed a few unimportant articles concerning paint ing for the Encyclopedic, was evidently seven to eight days post-time away from Paris and fuming at not being paid so promptly as he wished. It is clear from the nature of Diderot s letter that Landois was an extremely temperamental man much given to supposing that he was greatly put upon. In order to correct this impression, Diderot wrote him at great length, attacking the problem on three successive levels. The first was Diderot s personal disclaimer of guilt; the second was a discussion of Landois way of comporting himself, viewed in the light of conventional morality; the third was a discussion of Landois behavior from the point of view of phi losophy. Inasmuch as this letter provides what appears to be a clear-cut statement of Diderot s views on ethics, it is frequently and extensively quoted.

On the first level Diderot proceeds upon the theory that the best defense is a strong offense. Now, let s come to the business of your manuscript. It is a work capable of ruining me. After having charged me twice with the most atrocious and most deliberate outrages, you propose to me the revision and printing o it. ... You take me for an imbecile or you are one your self *

Having generated a sufficient amount of heat, Diderot passes to the second level of the argument by reproaching Landois for his detestable morality, and then, describing his own code of ethics: I find in myself an equal repugnance to wrong reasoning and wrong doing. I am between two forces, one of which shows me the good and the other inclines me toward evil. One must choose. At the beginning the moment of struggle is grievous, but the intensity of it weakens with time. There comes a time when the sacrifice of one s passion no longer costs a pang. I can even certify from experience that it is pleasant: one takes on in one s own eyes so much stature and dignity! Virtue is a mistress to whom one is attached as much by what one does for her as by the charms one believes her to possess. Woe to you if the practice of doing good is not sufficiently familiar to you, and


2 - DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

if you have not accumulated a sufficient stock o good actions to be vain of them, to compliment yourself about them ceaselessly, to intoxicate your self with this heady vapor and be fanatical about it.

"We take virtue," you say, "the way a sick man takes medicine," to which, if he were well, he would prefer any other thing that would please his appetite. That is true of a sick man out of his senses: but in spite of that, if this sick man had had the merit of diagnosing his malady himself, of having discovered and prepared the medicine for it, do you think he would hesitate in taking it, however bitter it was, or that he would not compliment himself for his acumen and courage? What is a virtuous man? It is a man vain with this sort of vanity, and nothing more. . . . This is an unusual definition of a virtuous man, and might be considered an extraor dinarily debunking one. But Diderot suggests that nevertheless Landois weigh the advantages such people gain for themselves, and especially what disadvantages they avoid. Thus Diderot argues that virtue is the pursuit of happiness, a kind of utilitarianism in which pleasure is strongly compounded of the esteem that others express for one as well as the esteem of oneself: But if ever you undertake [this calculation], do not forget to estimate for all that they are worth the esteem of others and that of oneself. Moreover, do not forget that a bad action never goes unpunished. I say never, because the first one that one commits inclines one to a second, that one to a third, and thus one advances step by step toward being held in contempt by one s fellow men, the greatest of all evils.

Diderot now comes to the third level of his argument. His object is to cure Landois of supposing that the whole of nature conspires against you, that chance has heaped up all the kinds of misfortune in order to pour them on your head. Where the devil did you get such pride? My dear fellow, you prize yourself too highly, you grant yourself too much importance in the universe. In order to disabuse Landois of so much pride, Diderot says of himself that he must leave off the tone of the preacher to take up, if I can, that of the philosopher. For now comes a discussion of the relation ship between morality and determinism. Diderot believed that effect follows cause so inexorably in the training and experience of the human being that liberty* is a meaningless word. The context would seem to indicate that he uses the word liberty in the sense of unpredictability or caprice. At all events, this important passage is as follows: Look at the matter closely and you will see that the word "liberty" is a word devoid of sense; that there are not, and cannot be, free beings; that we are only what is in consonance with the general order, with our organization, education, and the chain


GROWING TENSION WITH ROUSSEAU: ONLY THE BAD MAN LIVES ALONE* 25!

of events. That is what disposes of us invincibly. One can no more conceive of a being acting without motive than one can of the arm of a scales acting without the action of a weight, and the motive is always external to us, foreign to us, brought on by some nature or some cause that is not we our selves. What misleads us is the prodigious variety of our actions, joined with the habit we contracted as soon as we were born of confusing the voluntary with the free. . . .

It will be noticed that Diderot is expressing a theory of ethics that includes both heredity and environment: in his words, organization and education. Moreover, he recognizes that human beings have wills and exercise them, but he denies that human beings can exercise their wills capriciously and without relation to the totality of cause and effect in their previous experi ence. This is a conception of man s moral nature as full of horse sense as of philosophy. Diderot conceives of ethics as a scientific matter, effect inex orably related to cause. By such determinism he conceives of human conduct in a fashion that avoids the uncertainty and the insecurity of a theory of moral indeterminism in which anything can happen, even the most chaotic, the most unlikely, or the most unpredictable. 5 A wholly free will in a finite world is a fair definition of insanity/ writes a modern author. 6 The point was, according to Diderot, that Landois could not suddenly cease at will to be evil. After having made oneself bad, is being good merely a matter of removing oneself a hundred leagues, or of saying to oneself, I want to be? The crease is set, and the cloth has to keep it.

Far from feeling that nothing can be done in the moral training of human beings, Diderot emphasizes that although the beneficent or the maleficent man is not free, man is none the less a modifiable being. It is for this reason that the maleficent man should be destroyed at a place of public execution. From this fact [of his being modifiable, derive] the good effects of example, precepts, education, pleasure, pain, grandeur, poverty, etc.; from this fact, a sort of philosophy full of commiseration, attaching one strongly to good persons, but irritating one against a bad one no more than against a hurricane that fills our eyes with dust/

Diderot is here describing a system of morality that operates independently of the hope for reward or the fear of punishment in another world. Per haps it is the positive and this-worldly aspect of his doctrine that causes him to avoid relying upon the ordinary criteria of virtue and vice : But if there is no liberty, there is no action meriting praise or blame, no vice nor virtue, nothing that must be recompensed or chastised. What then distinguishes men? Doing good and doing evil. The evildoer is a man


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to be destroyed, not punished. Beneficence is a good fortune, not a virtue/ This way o stating moral doctrine seems harsh and forbidding, and in consequence the letter to Landois is very often cited as proving that Diderot s ethics had a hard, machinelike character, divesting human life of choice. But if one judges moral conduct from the point of view of results instead of from the point of view of intention, then Diderot s doctrine does not seem nearly so strange. His emphasis is then seen as one of social utility. 7 Good conduct, according to such a view, depends upon doing, upon the concrete and positive results of moral action. But man still remains a modifiable being capable of exercising choice. Diderot proves that he be lieves this by saying in the next few lines of the letter, Adopt these prin ciples if you find them good, or show me that they are defective. If you adopt them, they will reconcile you with others and with yourself.

While Diderot was engaged in this troublesome quarrel with Landois, his relations with other friends were also suffering deterioration. Probably there was some sort of quarrel with Condillac, to judge by Grimm s sudden and venomous attack after having praised Diderot s former friend only a little previously. Diderot and Condillac had not been intimate for some years and were now far removed from the days of the dinners at the Panier Fleuri. Their relations were further chilled, about this time, because Diderot felt that Condillac had pilfered from the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb (1751) one of the main ideas for his Treatise on Sensations, which appeared three years later. 8

Coincident with this turbulence in Diderot s relations with his friends was, it seems, a delay in the publication of the sixth volume of the Ency- dopedie. For although Grimm remarked in his news letter of i May 1756 that the volume had just been published, a friend wrote to Rousseau from Paris on 23 September that it had not yet appeared. 9 Diderot himself speaks of being in the country seeking rest and health after having completed the sixth volume, and the same correspondent of Rousseau dates this villeggiatura exactly by writing on 16 September that Diderot had just returned to Paris from a three-weeks visit at the country house of Le Breton, his publisher. 10 This delay in publication, if delay there was, may have contributed to Diderot s apparent irritability of that year, although the tardiness may have been caused by Diderot s lingering ill health. Le Breton carried him away from Paris for a vacation; yet even after that Diderot suffered a very bad attack of colic, which he attributed to his injudiciously discontinuing his diet of milk. 11 When Volume VI finally appeared it was the least controversial of all the


GROWING TENSION WITH ROUSSEAU: ONLY THE BAD MAN LIVES ALONE* 253

early volumes of the Encyclopedic and seems to have pleased everyone but Voltaire. The volume contained important articles by Turgot on Etymology/ Expansibility/ and Existence/ the latter a masterly exposition of the intel lectual presuppositions shared by most of the Encyclopedists. Then there were articles on Evidence/ Fetes/ Fireworks/ Fiefs/ Fevers/ Finances/ Fluid/ Flute/ and so on, the usual sort of intake of a work that called itself a methodical dictionary of the sciences, arts, and crafts. Especially note worthy was Quesnay s long article on Farmers (Fermiers), an article that has recently been called by a Marxist writer the origin of the whole physio- cratic doctrine because it analyzes the role of capital in production. 12 Diderot s share as a contributor of articles was distinctly less in this than in the other volumes, a circumstance which may have been owing to his ill health. Voltaire contributed fifteen articles and, in direct proportion to his becoming more closely identified with the work, grew correspondingly con cerned about its all too patent unevenness.

Voltaire had not originally been a subscriber to the Encyclopedic, so that he praised it, to begin with, more on hearsay than on firsthand knowl edge. 13 He liked to refer to Diderot and D Alembert as Adas and Hercules, carrying the world on your shoulders. 14 The Encyclopedic was the greatest and finest monument of the nation and of literature ; he adjured D Alem bert to hasten to finish the greatest work in the world. 15 Symbolic of their growing association was D Alembert s visit to Voltaire during the summer of the year in which Volume VI was published. It was during this very successful stay that Voltaire suggested D Alembert write an article on Ge neva/ an article which was to cause much trouble when it was published in Volume VII. 16 After D Alembert s return to Paris, Voltaire s letters be came much more frank than they had previously been. What I am told about the articles on theology and metaphysics wrings my heart. It is grievous to print the contrary of what one thinks.

I am also sorry that people write dissertations and give private opinions for established truths. I should like definition and the origin of the word, with examples, everywhere. 17

A month later Voltaire professed himself unable to believe that in so serious a work the following sentence had appeared in an article on Femme : Chloe presses her knee against one beau while rumpling the lace of another. What the writer, a man named Desmahis, had really said about Chloe was not much better: she presses her knee against one, squeezes the hand of another while praising his lace, and at the same time tosses off some suitable words to a third. Voltaire remarked of this article that it must have


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


been written by the lackey of Gil Bias. 18 To this D Alembert replied by a personal exculpation these articles are not in my bailiwick and added, Besides, I owe my colleague the justice o saying that he is not always in a position to reject or condense the articles presented to him/ 19 This par ticular aspect o the correspondence was then brought to an end by Voltaire s very sensibly inquiring, Why have you not recommended a sort of instruc tion sheet for those who serve you, etymologies, definitions, examples, reason, clarity, and brevity? 20

During 1756 the friendship of Diderot and Rousseau moved into a penumbra that was close to eclipse. Even the play that Diderot was writing that autumn, his Fils naturel (The Natural Son ), was destined to figure in this melancholy tale. The story of their friendship s end is tangled and complicated, hot with the passion of their clashing certainties of being in the right, mournful in the slow and inexorable ruin of their delight in each other. There is something epic and something symbolic in the confused, nightmarish deliquescence of their friendship, epic because of the intensity and vividness of the personalities of these two men, and epic, too, because of their articulateness. Symbolic it was in that the differences dividing them, although they did not realize it, were ideological. Rousseau was the precursor of Robespierre, Diderot of Danton, and a generation later one sent the other to the guillotine. The personal and temperamental irritations occurring during 1756-8 were exacerbated by profound and little-understood discrep ancies in their outlook on life. These twisted their judgments and are likely to twist the judgments of their biographers, too, for it is almost impossible to watch the wavering scales of justice and refrain from jumping into one of the pans. Temperament and circumstance combine so momentously that detached judgment becomes difficult. We tend to be Rousseau-men or Diderot-men, just as we tend to be Hamilton-men or Jefferson-men, Erasmus- men or Luther-men, Caesar-men or Cicero-men.

Rousseau always claimed that the revelation that came to him on the road to Vincennes in 1749 marked the turning point of his life. This was the revelation, glowing within him with the incandescence of a truth believed self-evident, that man s fate had become worse as his life had grown more sophisticated and more complex. It was a revelation such as might con ceivably come to a young man reared in puritanical simplicity on the shores, say, of Lake Tahoe, who comes to the metropolis to make his mark and lives precariously there, never quite at home and a success, never quite beaten and a failure, never quite sure enough of himself to be openly cen sorious of the life about him. The revelation of 1749 gave Rousseau the


GROWING TENSION WITH ROUSSEAU: ONLY THE BAD MAN LIVES ALONE 255

courage of his previously unasserted convictions. He still was sensitive, over-serious, and humorless. But these temperamental qualities now focused on what seemed to him the artificiality and conventionality of Parisian life. His friends could scarcely fail to notice his discontent. Their mistake was to suppose it merely superficial or even insincere.

It was not just with Paris that Rousseau was discontented. His friends, or most of them, galled him. He resented Diderot s unsolicited advice about accepting the King s pension; he suspected D Holbach of trying to make people believe that Rousseau had plagiarized the music for the Village Soothsayer; he disliked the philosophes baiting of the Abbe Petit, the man who had the theory of how to write a play in five acts; and he particularly abominated, as his preface to his play Narcisse shows so well, the anti- religious philosophy of his own circle of friends. When, therefore, the wealthy Mme d Epinay, a lady whom he had known since 1747, offered him the occupancy of the Hermitage, a spacious and specially remodeled cottage on her estate near Montmorency, ten miles to the north of Paris, Rousseau allowed himself to be persuaded to get away from it all. 21 His friends, regarding his decision as a ludicrous whim, loudly predicted that he could not endure it a fortnight. Sarcasms fell on me like hail, Rousseau later recalled in his Confessions. On 9 April 1756, he began living at the Hermitage, vowing never to live in cities again.

There is no doubt that Rousseau s friends were disconcerted by his leaving Paris, and even more so by his remaining away. Life away from Paris hardly seemed worth living to that intensely sociable age, especially if compounded by solitude. Paris and, for courtiers, Versailles seemed to most persons who had lived in them the only really habitable places in France. This feeling is reflected in the word the eighteenth century used when the king deprived a minister of his office and commanded him to live upon his country estate until further orders. The eighteenth century always said that a minister in such circumstances was exiled, as if living in a country house or chateau were equivalent to being banished to the ends of the earth. Rousseau s self- exile, as the D Holbach circle thought of it, might be construed as a standing reproach to them, and was therefore a constant and subtle irritation. If he was wise, they were foolish. Moreover, if his exile was virtue, then it cast doubt on their mode of life. This they found intolerable, so that Diderot put into the mouth of one of the characters in his Fils naturel this extremely barbed and personal allusion: *I appeal to your heart: ask it, and it will tell you that the good man lives in society, and only the bad man lives alone. 22

Rousseau, for his part, discovered more disillusionments in his new phase


2= -6 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

of life than he had anticipated. In the first place, he expected Diderot to come to the Hermitage regularly, a necessarily one-sided arrangement since Rous seau had renounced Paris. 23 In this expectation he was frequently disap pointed. In the second place, he found that whenever his benefactress was in residence at the big house, La Chevrette, his time was not his own. But worse than that was the fact that he had no domestic tranquillity. He had brought from Paris not only Therese Levasseur but also her aged mother. The old woman played off her daughter against Rousseau, and poor Therese, who had too little mind to be able to call what she had her own, was completely under her mother s domination. Rousseau discovered, with ex asperation and bepuzzlement, that nothing he did won Mme Levasseur s loyalty or even her good will. She treated Rousseau with the cunning and craftiness of a peasant outwitting the lord of the manor, and Rousseau must often have felt like the well-intentioned Nekhlyudov in Tolstoy s A Landlord s Morning. Added to this was the fact that Mme Levasseur, during the days back in Paris, had negotiated mysteriously with Grimm and Diderot. Rousseau now discovered this from Therese, but he could not fathom the purpose of this secretive conduct.

After Rousseau s lively imagination had mulled over the information that Grimm and Diderot had been in secret communication with Mme Levasseur, he was quite ready to believe that a sinister conspiracy was afoot against him. This conclusion probably strengthened his determination to remain at the Hermitage through the winter. The grave illness of an old friend, Gaufiecourt, called him to Paris on two separate occasions, the first in late December 1756 and the second for a two-week period the following January, during which time he dined at Mme d Epinay s and lodged at Diderot s. 24 Indeed it was at this sickbed that Diderot first met Mme d Epinay, a woman whose acquaintance he had always refused to make in spite of her close friendship with Rousseau and of her having become Grimm s mistress. 25 In fact, Diderot had attempted to prevent the liaison. Having received a very prejudicial view of the lady s character from a former suitor, Diderot had a protracted interview with Grimm, during the course of which he claimed to have asked his friend impatiently, That is to say that you sincerely be lieve that Mme d Epinay is neither false nor a coquette nor a whore? He left the interview convinced that his informant was a rascal but still un- persuaded that Mme d Epinay was as virtuous as Grimm thought. 26 This conversation had taken place about two years before the illness that brought all Gaufifecourt s friends, including the hermit from the Hermitage, to his bedside. Mme d Epinay had meanwhile become Grimm s mistress, but


GROWING TENSION WITH ROUSSEAU: ONLY THE BAD MAN LIVES ALONE 257

Diderot remained distant. Now, however, a train of circumstances had be gun that, as Rousseau saw it, ended by arraying all his friends, Diderot and Mme d Epinay no less than Grimm, in a sort of conspiracy against him.

Rousseau left Gaufifecourt and returned to the Hermitage just before the publication of Diderot s Fils naturel It was not long before he came across the line only the bad man lives alone/ and accordingly he wrote Diderot this particular letter is not extant what in his succeeding letter he described as the tenderest and most candid letter I ever wrote in my life, complaining, with all the gentleness of friendship, of a very ambiguous maxim from which a most injurious application could be made to me. 27 Diderot s answer was very nonchalant. Moreover, it was bantering in tone. But Rousseau was never of the temperament to bear either banter or non chalance gladly, and least of all was he in the mood to do so now. The emotional crisis into which he was thrown by Diderot s letters at this junc ture may be seen clearly in his letters to Mme d Epinay, as well as in her efforts to soothe him in reply. 28

Rousseau, who had made it a matter of principle not to go to Paris and who repeatedly declared to Mme d Epinay at this time that he would never in his life go there again, 29 suggested that Diderot come to Montmorency to see him in order to clear up the point about the solitary man s being evil. Diderot wrote: You can very well see, my dear fellow, that because of the weather it is not possible to go to find you, whatever the desire and even the need that I have of doing so. ... Do you know what you ought to do? Come here and stay a couple of days incognito. I would go Saturday to pick you up at Saint-Denis and from there we would go to Paris in the same cab that brought me. Diderot finally gets around to discussing the line in the Fils naturel that had wounded Rousseau, but his reference to it is very airy, and compounded with chaffing remarks, especially in regard to Mme Levasseur: 1 am glad that my work pleased you and touched you [it cer tainly did, and on a very sore spot]. You are not of my opinion regarding hermits. Say as much good of them as you please, you yourself will be the only one in the world of whom I shall think such good things, and even then there would be something to say on that point if one could speak to you without angering you. A woman eighty years old! . . . Adieu, citizen! And yet, a hermit is a very singular citizen. 30 It will be noticed that Diderot by no means claims that the offending line to which Rousseau took ex ception had been unintentional or inadvertent

Rousseau said of this letter that it had pierced his soul. 81 His reply is not extant, but one can be sure that it made no attempt to disguise his


2 -g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

feelings, and it very evidently was successful in annoying its recipient. What soever pain my letter gave you, 5 wrote Diderot, 1 do not repent of having written it: you were too pleased with your reply. Rousseau having refused to come to Paris, Diderot announced, not very good-hurnoredly, his in tention of going to Montmorency. Very well, then, Saturday morning I leave for the Hermitage, whatever the weather. I shall go on foot. My engagements have not permitted me to go sooner, my fortune does not permit me to go there any other way. . . . This letter, too, made much ado about Mme Levasseur, ending, Live, my friend, live, and do not fear lest she die of hunger. 32

The letter so infuriated Rousseau he told Diderot that it was abominable that he wrote to Mme d Epinay that he now devoutly hoped that Diderot would not come. But I ought to be reassured [that he won t]. He has promised that he will 33 This remark is in allusion to the many times, according to Rousseau, that Diderot made appointments and then failed to keep them. This time, however, it was Mme d Epinay who kept the friends from meeting by sending word that Rousseau would come to Paris instead. When he did not appear, Diderot wrote a third letter which is bright with his usual conviction of having done no wrong:

Once for all, ask yourself: Who took part in looking after my health when I was sick? Who supported me when I was attacked? Who was it who took an eager interest in my glory? Who rejoiced over my successes? Reply sincerely, and recog nize those who love you. . . . Oh, Rousseau! you are becoming spiteful, unjust, cruel, ferocious, and I weep with sorrow. A nasty quarrel with a man whom I never esteemed and loved as I have you, has caused me affliction and insomnia [evi dently a reference to Landois]. Guess, then, what pain you are causing me. . . . Indicate when you wish it, and I shall hasten to you; but I shall wait until you do. 34

Rousseau s reply, a few days later, showed how far the mutual misunder standing had carried. Had you intended to irritate me in all this business, he wrote, what could you have done more? He admitted that he had got Mme d Epinay to prevent Diderot s coming to the Hermitage: they would only have quarreled. Besides, you wanted to come on foot; you risked making yourself sick, and perhaps you would not have been too sorry had you done so. I did not have the courage to incur all the perils of such an interview.* Each accused the other of self-righteousness. You constantly appear to be so proud of your conduct in this affair/ wrote Rousseau, and then he cried out, Diderot! Diderot! I see it with bitter grief: living unin terruptedly in the company of spiteful men, you are learning to resemble


GROWING TENSION WITH ROUSSEAU! *ONLY THE BAD MAN LIVES ALONE* 259

them* Your good heart is being corrupted by their society, and you are forcing mine, by insensible degrees, to detach itself from you. 35

It was a pity that Montmorency was not a good deal farther from Paris. Distance made communication difficult but not impossible, just when mutual distrust was doing the same. As it was, Rousseau was near enough Paris for him to expect to see his friends constantly at the Hermitage. By his reluctance to set foot in the city he forced his friends into a one-sided intercourse whereby they paid the charges both in transportation and time. 36 And this resulted, in the case of a man like Diderot, never one to be very punctilious about his appointments, in broken promises and unfulfilled engagements. In Diderot s defense it might be said that he was an unusually busy man, occupied not only with his editorial duties but also with Rouelle s chemistry lectures and, just at this time, with his play and the complications that it brought in its train. Personal contact was difficult, correspondence generated as much misunderstanding as it did understanding indeed, where mutual confidence was lacking, it generated more - and, to crown all, Diderot acted, although probably with the very best of intentions, with a singular lack of tact. One has the right to ask Diderot, as Rousseau did, what precisely were his motives in harping upon the fate of Mme Levasseur, and what precisely did he mean by so publicly and so gratuitously remarking that only the evil man lives alone. Candor must reply that, at least so far as documents now extant reveal, Diderot never quite justified himself satis factorily upon cither count.


CHAPTER 20


How To Write a Play: Example and Precept


THE impulse to write plays had come rather sud denly upon Diderot in his early forties. He wrote

two during this period and accompanied each of them with elaborate essays upon all aspects of the theater, so that, taken together, his views could scarcely be ignored, however much they might be disparaged. The first to be published was the Fils naturel ( The Natural Son, or Virtue Put to the Test. A Comedy in Five Acts and in Prose. With the True History of the Piece ). The True History of the Piece/ to use Diderot s fiction, is better known as the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel ( Conversations regarding the Fils naturel ) and consists of three dialogues with Dorval, the hero of the play, in which numerous aspects of acting and dramatic composition were discussed. Four editions of the Fils naturel appeared in the year of its publication (1757) ,* and in 1758 there followed the Pere de famille ( The Father of the Family ), to which was attached the substantial Discours sur la poesie dramatique ( Discourse on Dramatic Poetry ). Though neither play was produced by the Comedie-Frangaise before it was published the Pere de famille had its premiere there in 1761 and the Fils naturel its premiere (which was also its derniere) in 1771 the public nevertheless became very aware of Diderot as a playwright, whether because of the intrinsic merit of his ideas or the unflagging efforts of his cabal.

Inasmuch as everyone in Paris who was interested in the theater knew that Diderot was the author of the Fils naturel, it might at first seem odd that his name did not appear on the tide page. No doubt it was some rather dour remarks, especially those in Act III, regarding heaven and the ways of its providence, that prevented the work from being published under public license. Indeed, the fashion in which the play was received by his relatives at Langres shows that it had a tendentiousness that Malesherbes could not have dared to endorse by allowing it approbation. On 29 November 1757,

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Diderot wrote to his father, 1 am very sorry to have done something that displeases you ... I beg you to believe that it is impossible for me to be pleased with myself when you are not. 2 On the very same day he wrote to his brother, 1 learn, my dear brother, that my most recent work has greatly afflicted you. If that is the case, I d wish I had not written it. ... Tell me frankly what displeased you/ 3 But the Abbe refused to be drawn into an argument. It was not suitable between brothers, he wrote. Besides, he would just bring down on himself what had happened the last time, because the same thing is to be found in your book, and, doubtless being unshaken and constant in your principles, you would give me the same reply, that I am a fanatic, that it is so much the worse for me if I have need of my religion in order to be an honest man, that you do not feel this need, that you are contented with your own, and that you will never change it. 4

The Fils naturel was probably offered to the Comedie-Frangaise. 5 If so, it must have been a severe disappointment to Diderot that it was rejected. He had to content himself with printing in the list of the dramatis personae the names of the Comedie-Frangaise actors whom he deemed suitable for the various roles. This was an unusual procedure, a little ridiculous, a little pathetic.

The publication of the Fils naturel occasioned an uproar. In part, this was simply the result of the collision between people who like experimentation in the arts and people who detest it. The Fils naturel was sufficiently novel in techniques of staging and acting as well as new emphases in character analysis and intellectual content to make it controversial. This was not because the Fils naturel was the first of its kind to exemplify these new ideas in the theater. 6 It was tearful comedy, but so was the theater of Nivelle de la Chaussee, whose plays, scornfully dubbed comedie larmoyante , had preceded Diderot s by a good fifteen years. Similarly, it was not the first to be written in prose; Landois Sylvie (1742) was not in verse. Moreover, Sylvie and Mme de Graffigny s Cenie (1750) had both presented seriously and respectfully the virtues and vicissitudes of persons of ordinary social rank, thus deviating from the conventions of the classic French theater. Diderot was, therefore, not so much the first practitioner of what he called the genre serieux as its greatest theoretician. 7 And as such he was cried up and cried down by those who welcome, and those who abominate, the sacrosanct old s being jostled by the irreverent new.

The plays of Diderot were in sober fact revolutionary, not merely in an aesthetic sense but also in a political one. The motivations, the values, the morality, the self-evident truths set forth in the Fils naturel and the Pert


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de famille were those of a new social class just beginning to feel its own power and to respect its own intuitions. There was nothing, to be sure, so revolutionary in Diderot s plays as there was in The Marriage of Figaro, where Beaumarchais has Figaro say of his master, What did you do to obtain all these benefits ? and then has him answer his own question by replying, You gave yourself the trouble to be born/ The political and social implications of the new outlook on playwriting, as revealed in Diderot s pieces, were as yet more obscure than plain, but they were there; and it is impossible to say anything more cogent about Diderot s plays than to repeat what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America. If you would judge beforehand, he remarked, of the literature of a people which is lapsing into democracy, study its dramatic productions. . . . The tastes and propensities natural to democratic nations, in respect to literature, will there fore first be discernible in the drama, and it may be foreseen that they will break out there with vehemence. 8

In France they did break out with vehemence there. Diderot s notions regarding the theater would no doubt have aroused controversy in any event because of the technical innovations they propounded, but the po litical implications of the plays as yet dim and obscure were strangely disturbing or exhilarating to readers. Moreover, Diderot s views became the official dogma of an energetic and assertive coterie, resolved to make its judgments prevail. Mme d Epinay, probably motivated by the desire to put Diderot under obligation to her, claimed to have disposed of more than three hundred copies of the Fils naturel within two days of its publication, a rather large number, which a later editor prudently divided by three. 9 Grimm told the subscribers to his news letter what to think of the new work in an ecstatic fashion that suggests his judgment was somewhat biased. The Fils naturel was a work of genius. ... [a] beautiful and sublime work : Diderot, if he kept on in this way, was destined to become the absolute master of the French theater. However unfamiliar may be the sort of comedy in the Fils naturel, ou les Epreuves de la vertu; however new may be the poetics contained in the three Conversations that accompany this play, the enthusiasm of the first few days has been general. All the wits admired this work, all the tenderhearted and sensitive souls honored it with their tears. Envy and stupidity have not dared to raise their voices, and the public has emerged from this bit of reading better and more enlightened than it was. 10 Even the hostile Annie Litteraire, still edited by the formidable Freron, cheerfully though belatedly admitted with the usual adversative but, the usual sting in its tail that the Fils naturel had caused a stir. 1


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cannot express with what warmth the public received this comedy . . . Let it suffice for you to know that this drama was for some time the subject of all the reading, of all the conversations, and of almost all the praise of Paris. Nothing is said of it today. ll

Critics of Diderot contended that the success of the Fils naturel was achieved by the art of puffery. This was the claim of the Encyclopedists most dangerous antagonist, Charles Palissot. In a pamphlet entitled Little Letters on Great Philosophers, he focused his attention for some forty pages on the Fils naturel. Hitch yourselves to the chariot of the new Philosophy, he advised obscure authors, . . . make passers-by confess that the Fils naturel is a masterpiece, a marvel, a discovery more precious to the world of letters than that of America to Europe; and there you are, celebrated, immortal, and perhaps some day members of the Academy. 12 Privately many must have felt what the poet and dramatist Colle confided to his journal: that the Encyclopedists ought to let themselves be praised by others, and not give themselves the trouble of taking care of it themselves, as they do every minute. 13

Just at the time that pamphleteers and editors were preparing to attack the Fils naturel, Malesherbes used his authority to protect it. So titanic was the struggle against the dead weight of all the elements of society opposed to change and hostile to reform that Malesherbes often tended to throw the weight of his authority on the side of the philosophes in order to equalize the contest. For instance, in 1756 he had written to the man appointed to be censor of Freron s Annee Litteraire and, after remarking that the authors of the Encyclopedic were quite justified in their annoyance at one of Freron s quotations in which the Encyclopedic was referred to as scandalous and the author of one of its articles as seditious, he inquired how it was that the censor had let it pass. 14 The censor, Trublet, replied with some animation: It is true that Freron has frequently desired to attack the Encyclopedic and its editors in his pages, because, he says, they have often attacked him in theirs. I have never allowed these attacks to pass. One day I gave the proof of this to M. d Alembert, by letting him read what I had blue-penciled in some of the proofs. He appeared to be grateful for this consideration. Since then Freron has often returned to the charge, and I to my blue-pencilings. Never have I allowed any extract from any work expressly written against the Encyclopedic! 15

Malesherbes policy regarding the Fils naturel is revealed in the censor s report about the manuscript of a mild little pamphlet published in 1757. Its title, translated, was The Legitimatized Bastard, or the Triumph of Tear-


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ful Comedy, with an Examination of the Fils naturel The author was a dull dog, and appears to have used up all his wit in the tide. But perhaps his pamphlet, which was principally interested in showing that the tech niques of tearful comedy had been used by the ancients, was no sharper than it was because censorship had toned it down. In truth, wrote its censor, a man named Gaillard, in his report to Malesherbes, there is nothing bitter in this criticism. It is even tempered by strong praise, and M. Diderot cannot complain of it without being unjust; but as you have had the kind ness to inform me of the reasons that make you desire that his work not be discredited, I thought that I should inform you of this part of the manuscript before approving it. . . . 17

As far as hostile reviews of the Fils naturel were concerned, Diderot had most to fear from Freron. At this juncture Malesherbes let it be known that he hoped that Freron and Diderot would become reconciled. Upon receiving this intelligence, Freron stopped the presses sixteen pages of an article on the Fils naturel had already been printed and wrote Malesherbes a letter. 18 He suspected a trap and was full of distrust, not least because he knew that about 1754 Diderot and D Alembert, learning that Frederick II had authorized the election of Freron to the Prussian Academy, had written to the presi dent of the Academy that they would resign their membership if Freron was elected. 19 Freron now explained to Malesherbes the reasons for his reluctance to agree to a reconciliation: He is at the head of a numerous society that spreads and multiplies day by day by reason of its intrigues. He would ceaselessly beseech me to deal gently with his friends, his as sociates, his admirers. I would be able to speak neither of the Encyclopedic nor of any Encyclopedist. ...

Permit me to observe to you further, Monsieur, that it is rather peculiar that the moment chosen for reconciling us, M. Diderot and me, is that in which he has just given a work to the public. One does not need to be very farsighted to see that M. Diderot is aiming at the French Academy, and that those who wish him well apprehend, quite rightly, that I will demon strate (as I believe I have done) that his Fils naturel the only work he has written in the Academy s line, is a detestable play. 20

It is not surprising that Diderot should, at some time, experiment with writing plays. As mentioned earlier, he thought for some time, when he was a youngster, of being an actor; he closely studied plays and acting; he devoted several of the best pages of Les Bijoux indiscrets to a searching criticism of the theater; 21 and he wrote some sort of play, now lost, on the basis of which the Abbe Desf ontaines is reported to have declared that Diderot


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had a great talent for dramatic composition. There can therefore be no doubt that potentially Diderot was deeply interested in playwriting. If the ques tion is posed why Diderot chose this particular and very busy moment in which to make lengthy and weighty experiments in a field of letters com paratively new to him, Freron s theory that Diderot was aiming at the French Academy seems altogether likely. Why not? Diderot was short on memberships in academies. Moreover, D Alembert was now a member, making the imbalance of official honors possessed by him as compared with Diderot more apparent than ever, while at the same time putting him into a favorable position to work among his new colleagues for Diderot s ac ceptance. Both enemy and friend hinted at the time that Diderot s object was to make himself eligible for membership in the Academy. 22 We may even conjecture that the publishers of the Encyclopedic hoped that their chief editor would be able to achieve such signal recognition. At all events, Diderot seems to have taken time from the Encyclopedic to work on the Fils naturel and the Pere de jamille, if the very scanty number of his con tributions to Volume VII (published in October 1757) is evidence.

Diderot made his first play more difficult to criticize by pretending that the events of its plot had actually occurred. 23 Moreover, from the point of view of the theory of playwriting, this suggested that the function of the theater is to hold a mirror up to nature. But it was also a prime device for evading criticism, getting around awkward objections, and, in short, of trying to eat one s cake and have it too. These are the events that were supposed to have occurred:

It is daybreak, and the austere and virtuous Dorval is revealed ordering horses for the purpose of leaving at once, his reason being that he has fallen in love with Rosalie, the fiancee of his friend and host, Clairville. Rosalie is a motherless girl whose father has long been in the Indies and is now on his way back to France to bless Rosalie s nuptials with Clairville. Mean while, Rosalie is living in Clairville s house, under the care of his widowed sister, Constance. Constance is much upset by the news that Dorval is leaving, and makes to him a very thinly veiled declaration of love. That which follows must be hard to say for a woman like Constance, say the - stage directions parenthetically. At this point Clairville enters and begs Dorval to intercede with Rosalie in her fiance s behalf. Something seems to have happened to her affections for him and Clairville believes that the juxtaposition of Dorval s virtue will easily put everything to rights: Such/ says Clairville, is the august prerogative of virtue: it impresses everyone who comes near it.


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In the John Alden-Priscilla Mullens interview that follows, Dorval, with out acknowledging his love, learns that Rosalie loves him. This redoubles his resolve to leave the house at once, but as he is writing some .farewell lines to Rosalie he is called out of the room to fly to the defense of Clairvillc, who is being attacked by armed assailants. Constance enters the room and reads the half-written letter, which she takes to be addressed to herself. At one point in this second act Dorval s servant ejaculates, No! it seems as if good sense had fled from this house. ... God grant that we catch up with it on the road. Several contemporary critics regarded this as the best line

in the play. . TTT

From the conversation between Clairville and Dorval that begins Act III, it is clear that Dorval has just saved Clairville s life. Constance enters, shows the tormented Dorval that she has seen his letter and taken it to be meant for her, and then, not seeming able to strike much fire from so backward a lover, leaves. Clairville accepts Constance s interpretation of the letter and speculates on why Dorval had not confided in his friend. Did you fear that my sister, learning the circumstances of your birth . . . ? Clairville, replies Dorval, you offend me. I possess a soul too exalted to conceive such fears. If Constance were capable of entertaining such a prejudice, I dare to say that she would not be worthy of me. Rosalie enters, learns from Clairville that Dorval is to marry Constance, swoons, and an nounces to Clairville upon reviving that she hates him. There then appears a servant of Rosalie s father, who explains that master and man had been within sight of the French coast when their vessel was captured by the British and Rosalie s father despoiled of his fortune and thrown into prison. A former business correspondent secured their release, and Rosalie s father, now penniless, is in Paris and about to rejoin his daughter. Dorval receives the news of the loss of Rosalie s fortune motionless, his head bowed, with a pensive attitude, and his arms crossed (such is usually his ordinary at titude). He secretly resolves to take from his own fortune in order to restore hers, and as the curtain falls on Act III he is seen writing to his

banker.

In Act IV Dorval attempts to persuade the tenacious Constance that he is not good enough for her, and that he is leaving in order to exist far from men. This is the point in the play where Constance says that only the bad man lives alone, the remark that Rousseau took personally. There follows a very edifying conversation, full of eighteenth-century philosophy regarding virtue. What, for example, would be the chances of their chil dren s being virtuous? Dorval, your daughters will be virtuous and decent,


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your sons noble and proud. All your children will be charming . . . and I do not fear that a cruel soul might ever be formed in my womb and of your blood! When the virtuous but reluctant Dorval reveals the handicap of his illegitimate albeit almost guiltless birth, Constance replies, Birth is bestowed upon us, but our virtues we acquire/

In the last act Dorval demonstrates his virtue and his forcefulness by persuading Rosalie in a long harangue that they could never be happy together and that she must accept Clairville. At that moment the father of Rosalie arrives, and Dorval recognizes him as his father! This remarkable coincidence provides a denouement with a vengeance: Dorval and Rosalie suddenly finding themselves half-brother and half-sister, there is scarcely any use of their engaging in speculation as to whether their children would be virtuous, so Rosalie resolves to live happily ever after with Clairville, and Dorval with Constance. The curtain goes down with everyone on stage bathed in happy tears, according to eighteenth-century prints of the final scene.

Most of the attention paid to the Fils naturel has appropriately enough been devoted to its place in the history of the French drama. But it should also be pointed out that the play has great biographical significance, not only in respect to what Diderot wrote and when and why, but also in regard to its revelation of what Diderot valued and admired. Diderot delights in Dorval. To him the hero of his play is a hero indeed. And what a hero! A man whose charms are so irresistible that he receives two declarations of love in a single day, whose courage and prowess are so great that he saves the life of his friend, whose generosity is so ample that he divides his own fortune for the sake of his friends, whose virtue and eloquence are so overpowering that he can recall one of the ladies to her duty, and whose self-abnegation and self-control are so triumphant that he can marry the other whom he does not love. Surely Dorval was the Super-Man of the salons. His creator wrote of him in the spirit of a boy dreaming preposterous and fantastic dreams of glory. It may even be that Diderot saw himself in this creation of his imagination. Evidence for this identification may be found in the fact that Diderot has Dorval s servant saying to him, Mon sieur, you are good, but don t go imagining that you are as good as your father. 24 Now, these are almost the identical words that a neighbor at Langres used in speaking to Diderot about his real-life father, so that to many readers the psychological transference will seem apparent.

Dorval is one of the first in a long line of somber heroes whose souls are touched by Weltschmerz and whose hearts are swollen by feelings almost too


/-o DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

delicate and subtle for ordinary mortals to feel The unquestionable similarity between Dorval and Goethe s Werther and the presumable influence of the former in the shaping of the latter was noticed very early. 25 Such a hero, although usually divested of his preoccupation with virtue, became standard in the course of the Romantic Movement. And from Diderot s description of Dorval in the following passage, connoisseurs will have no difficulty in recognizing the type. He was melancholy in his conversation and bearing, unless he spoke of virtue or experienced the transports it causes to those who are strongly enamored of it. Then you would have said that he was transfigured. His face became serene. His eyes sparkled and became gentle. His voice had an inexpressible charm. His discourse became affecting and moving, an interlinking of austere ideas and touching images that held the attention in suspense and the soul in raptures. But as in autumn evenings, during cloudy and overcast weather one sometimes sees a shaft of light escape from a cloud, shine for a moment, and then vanish away in an over cast sky, so, too, his animation died away, and he suddenly relapsed into silence and melancholy. 26

The impact on public opinion of the Fils naturel was greatly fortified by Diderot s doctrines as expounded in the three supplementary dialogues. Within the framework of these imaginary interviews, Diderot propounded many new conceptions of the drama, conceptions that he was not the first to feel but that he was the first to express, at least in so comprehensive a way. 27 And because Diderot was an author singularly endowed with the gifts of plausibility and persuasion, his precepts as stated in these conversa tions were fully as influential as the example of the play itself.

Many readers will be surprised to learn that Diderot did not attack the unities of time, place, and plot which had become an iron rule of the French classic stage. Quite to the contrary, he wrote that The laws of the three unities are difficult to observe, but they make sense, and both Le Fils naturel and Le Perc de famille conformed to them. 28 The reforms he demanded were other. One of them was greater realism. He was emphatic in the Conversa tions that stage settings are extremely important and really part of the action. As a corollary, he wanted the stage cleared of spectators 29 Moreover, he interspersed his dialogue with explicit stage directions had Dorval drink a cup of tea and peppered his pages with exclamation points and broken-off sentences, in order to give some idea of the emphatic style of speech and the semi-inarticulateness of persons who labor under strong emotions. 30 This led him, incidentally, to discuss the problem of fitting prosody to music, a technical problem of the opera that always fascinated


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him. Thus he called for a reform in operatic composition that anticipated the opera of Gluck. 31 And he had much to say of the importance of pan tomime and gesture. We talk too much in our dramas; and consequently our actors do not sufficiently act. 32 And to enhance the illusion of reality, Diderot made his play contemporaneous. The scene was laid at Saint- Germain-en-Laye, twelve miles west of Paris, and the time was 1757. All this was new.

The purpose of this greater realism was to clear the way for the second of Diderot s desired reforms, the creation of what he called domestic and bourgeois tragedy. 33 This showed the very great influence that the con temporaneous English theater had upon him, especially George Lillo s melo dramatic The London Merchant, or the History of George Barnwell (1731), and Edward Moore s almost equally melodramatic The Gamester (1753). In the conversations with Dorval, Diderot twice mentioned The London Merchant and once The Gamester as models of what he had in mind, and the abiding influence of Moore s play on him is symbolized by the fact that in 1760 he translated it for the edification of some of his friends. 34 As for the matter of domestic and bourgeois tragedy/ Diderot did not regard him self as having written in that mode. His plays, he thought, belonged rather to what he called in 1757 the serious kind of play (le genre serieux), neither the old tragedy nor the old comedy but something new and in between, something as new as the Fils naturel and at the same time as old as the plays of Terence. 35 By the time he had published his Pere de jamille a year later, he was calling this sort of play a drama (drame) . The word drama in French has therefore come to have a much more specific and less generic meaning than in English. It connotes the particular sort of play written along the lines recommended by Diderot. 36

Obviously bourgeois tragedy is tragedy mirroring the vicissitudes, con flicts, and values of the middle class. The temptations to which its characters are subject are peculiarly middle-class temptations, such as the peculations of the apprentice, George Barnwell. The virtues portrayed in such plays are those of an emergent and potentially powerful social class, thus illustrating De Tocqueville s remark concerning the drama in nations tending toward democracy. To people of the seventeenth century nothing could be more deliciously funny than the bare tide Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, for it incongruously associated what they deemed inherently incompatible, the bourgeois and the gentilhomme. For devotees of the drame, however, this attitude was beginning to seem out-of-date and contrary to philosophy, In the drame the middle class is portrayed as having dignity and being


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


worthy o respect. Commerce, for example, is no longer considered de grading. Clairville, upon being asked what he was going to do in view of his reduced fortune, says in the Fils naturel, 1 shall go into commerce. . . . [It] is almost the only occupation in which great fortunes are proportionate to the effort, the industry, and the dangers that make them respectable. 37

Along with the creation of domestic and bourgeois tragedy, Diderot hoped to aid in creating a whole new repertoire of plays to represent the various occupations and the various family relationships: The occupation ought now to become the principal object, and the character should be only the accessory/ 38 Thus there should be portrayed the man of letters, the philosopher, the businessman, the judge, the lawyer, the politician, the citizen, the magistrate, the financier, the nobleman, the public administrator. Add to that, all the [family] relationships: the family father, the husband, the sister, the brothers. 39 Thus Diderot raised to a new level of artistic importance both the lives of persons whose family ties were strongly knit, as in the traditional manner of middle-class families, and the lives of those who worked for their living.

The third and principal object of Diderot in writing Le Fils naturel and in expounding his doctrines was to make the theater an institution for teaching morality. The philosophes, in almost everything they thought and wrote about, were strongly utilitarian. Things should have a use, a function. Carrying this axiom over into the theater, it was not enough for Diderot and the philosophes that plays should entertain, they must also impel to virtuous action. The usual consensus is that this is asking the theater to carry a very heavy extra burden, but Diderot demanded it. He has Constance say, Doubtless there are still barbarians; and when will there not be? But the time of barbarism is past. The century has become enlightened. Reason has become refined, and the books of the nation are filled with its precepts. The books that inspire benevolence in men are almost the only ones that are read. Such are the lessons with which our theaters resound, and with which they cannot resound too often. . . . 40 Diderot also referred jocularly to an ideal republic to be set up in the island of Lampedusa. In that ideal society, actors would fulfill the function of preachers, so useful should the theater be. 41 What, asked Dorval, is the aim of dramatic composition? And Diderot replied, I believe it is to inspire among men a love of virtue and a horror of vice. 42

Such were Diderot s ideas on how a play should be written, ideas that aroused as much scoffing and scorn as they did enthusiasm and admiration.


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The short-range opposition to these notions should not, however, be allowed to obscure the long-range importance of Diderot s ideas. No other part of Diderot s writings has given rise to a larger mass of studies and criticisms than his plays and his essays concerning dramatic literature, writes a recent American critic. 43 And the scholar who is generally regarded as the best author ity on the history of the drame began his work with these words: Trench lit erature in the eighteenth century saw a new dramatic form being born . . . Foreshadowed and prepared by the school of tearful comedy, the drame acquired with Diderot a very distinct and clear-cut personality. Thus it is from the publication of the Fils naturel (1757) && its rea l existence dates. 44

Although the play was not produced at Paris until 1771, there were at least two performances of it in the provinces in the year of its publication. These occurred, probably in a private theater, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the very locale in which the action of Diderot s play was supposed to have taken place. Deleyre wrote to Rousseau that he had gone to the first performance, where I wept copiously, although not intending to. 45 But Freron declared that there was nobody at the second performance! 4S Whether that be true or not, the interest aroused by Diderot s drama is attested by the number of editions it had. Between 1757 and 1800 it was published in twenty-five French editions, four German and three Russian, twice in Italian and in Dutch, and in Danish and English once each. 47

Much of what Diderot wrote in the Fils naturel and its subsequent dialogues lent itself to sarcastic comment. In the Conversations he talked a great deal about the forthcoming Pere dc jamillc, praised it in advance, and, con trary to his usual custom, brazenly sought a patron for it and that in cold print. The person he had in mind was a prince of the blood royal, the Duke of Orleans, whose chief passion was his love for the theater. 48 More over, Diderot s enemies did not fail to notice that the fiction he used of DorvaPs having written the Fils naturel gave him the opportunity, while seeming to compliment Dorval, really to praise his own work fulsomely. 49 And if, in his dialogue with Dorval, he made some objections to this innova tion or that, it was transparently done to allow Dorval to make a triumphant and unanswerable reply. The author makes some objections against his play, wrote Palissot, and the Lord knows how much he "pulls his punches" (il fait patte de velours). The so-called Dorval replies in so satisfactory a manner that M. Diderot is always obliged to agree with him/ 50 Both Palissot and Freron thought it a weakness in Diderot s play that he had to rely upon an extraordinary coincidence, a deus ex machina, in order to bring his piece


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


to an end, and Palissot spoke cuttingly of this old man tumbled down from the clouds. 51 Both critics objected to the philosophical and glacial jargon/ and complained that there was no contrast between the personages of the play, so that all of them seemed to have been cast in the same mold. It is always M, Diderot, a philosopher, a metaphysician, who is speaking . . . . 52 There was a disposition among critics, too, to claim that even if these new ideas were any good, it was not Diderot who invented them; and one pamphleteer gave himself the satisfaction of calling Diderot the Amerigo Vespucci of the new kind of play, other persons having been its Columbus. 53

Diderot s enemies presently began to exult in a discovery they made that the Fils naturel was very closely modeled on a comedy entitled 11 Vero Amico, written by the celebrated Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni, and first produced in 1750 at Venice. Freron wanted to publish the news of this discovery by printing a letter purportedly written by Goldoni in complaint of the Fils naturel. This Malesherbes refused to allow. He evi dently accepted the proof of plagiarism, for Freron had sent him a copy of Goldoni s works, but his reason for refusing to allow Freron to publish the supposititious letter was that it would be a falsehood worse than all the acts of plagiarism in the world, to give to the public under Goldoni s name such a letter if it were not really from him/ 54 Freron had to content him self with a very indirect although effective approach. In one issue he pub lished a full synopsis of the Fils naturel; then in his next issue, under pretense of reviewing Goldoni s comedies generally, he published an equally detailed synopsis of // Vero Amico > and in doing so he used, where relevant, the identical words of his previous summary, thus creating a haunting echo effect that would naturally cause readers to look back to try to find out where they had read the same thing before. 65 By this device Freron suggested to his readers what Malesherbes did not allow him to say outright. 56

A collation of Goldoni s // Vero Amico and Diderot s Fils naturel shows that the situations, the personages (save for an old miser who appears in Goldoni s play and is left out of Diderot s), and a good deal of the dialogue are extremely similar up through almost half the play. 5T This might be called cultural borrowing on the grand scale. But thereafter the plots diverge. Moreover, the spirit of the two plays is different throughout. Goldoni s is more a farce than a play *of the serious kind : it attempts to impart no morality or philosophy, and it has no special middle-class point of view. That Diderot s sins had therefore been much exaggerated by his enemies was the comforting conclusion pointed out by the contemporary Journal Encydopedique :


HOW TO WRITE A PLAY: EXAMPLE AND PRECEPT 273

Finally, from a three-act farce (half of which was itself borrowed from Moliere s The Miser ) there has emerged a symmetrical piece in five acts, written in a vigor ous, grave, elevated, and energetic style, and capable of expressing feeling, with out which no style can speak to the heart. Let those who desire to despoil M. Diderot of his glory, in order to give it to Goldoni, attempt a similar metamorphosis with any one of the sixty plays that the fertile Italian has written. Far from reproaching them for their theft, we will congratulate them very sincerely for having had the skill to do it. 58

It is difficult for people in the twentieth century to be quite sure how heinously Diderot had transgressed against the ethical code of his con temporaries in regard to plagiarism. Even in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a scholar in the problems of literary history reminds us, public opinion was still indulgent in this regard; it was not until the last century that plagiarism was condemned as out-and-out dishonesty. 59 Malesherbes seems to have partaken of this attitude when he sharply distinguished be tween Diderot s plagiarism and Freron s wanting to print a letter pur portedly, but not really, written by Goldpni. In Malesherbes eyes, there was patently no comparison in the relative guilt of the two offenses. On the other hand, it is obvious that Colle took a very severe view of the matter, and it is also clear that Diderot s enemies felt that they now had him at a considerable disadvantage, from which one may conclude that plagiarism was not entirely overlooked by contemporary opinion nor completely con doned. 60 Besides, Diderot himself felt constrained to justify his procedure, and in 1758, in his Discours sur la poesie dramatique, he made the best of admitting what could not be denied: 1 took possession of it as if it were a piece of property belonging to me. Goldoni had not been more scrupulous. He laid hold of the Avare without anyone s taking it into his head to find that bad; and no one among us has imagined accusing Moliere or Corneille of plagiarism for having tacitly borrowed the idea of some play either from an Italian author or from the Spanish theater. Diderot denied that his play and Goldoni s were similar in kind, that his characters and those of Goldoni had the slightest resemblance, that there was a single important word in the Fils nature! that had been taken from II Vero Amico. And then, becoming quite heated, he asserted that *I really wish that there were a dozen such larcenies to reproach me with. I do not know whether the Pere de famille has gained anything by belonging entirely to me. 61

Public opinion eventually began to rally somewhat to Diderot s support, as the foregoing quotation from the Journal Ency elope dique shows. The Mercure de France for February 1759, in reviewing Diderot s Discours sur


274 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

la poesiff dramatique, spoke very sympathetically regarding his explanation. I would never end/ wrote the reviewer, were I to cite all unacknowledged translations made from one language to another without anyone s believing himself obliged to announce them. This is the first time that the name of plagiarism has been given to the use of a foreign idea that has been enriched, ennobled, and, above all, applied to a genre that is not that of the original/ 62

Nevertheless, Diderot s conduct when he later came unexpectedly face to face with Goldoni betrayed a bad conscience. Goldoni s feelings had been hurt, he tells us in his Memoirs,, not so much by the possibility of plagiarism after all, plagiarism is a form of very sincere compliment but by Diderot s calling Goldoni s comedies farces! Besides, he thought that Diderot s public references to him as Charles Goldoni, instead of M. Goldoni, betrayed both irritation and contempt. 1 was sorry to see a man of the greatest merit pre disposed against me. I did everything possible to draw near to him . . . to convince him that I did not deserve his indignation. Finally, Goldoni asked a common friend, an Italian musician named Duni, to take him to call upon Diderot. Though obviously embarrassed, M. Diderot had the honesty to say that some of my plays had caused him much vexation, I had the courage to reply that I had noticed it/ 63 The interview seems to have ended politely but inconclusively, and although Goldoni was in Paris off and on for many years thereafter, their paths apparently did not cross again,

The Fils naturel greatly enhanced Diderot s reputation, but it was a source of mortification too. A few days after its publication he had written to Jean-Jacques, Whatsoever success my work has had ... I have received scarcely anything but embarrassment from it and I expect nothing but vexation. 64 In this he was prophetic. For some years he had lived in com parative tranquillity, he and the more recent volumes of his Encyclopedic having given little leverage to his enemies. But the Fils naturel had given them a purchase. Presently other untoward events, directly or indirectly con nected with Diderot, were responsible for bringing about the supreme crisis in the history of the Encyclopedic.


CHAPTER 21


Rising Opposition;

D Alembert s Blunder in Volume VII


D


CURING all the time that Diderot and Rousseau were inexorably proceeding from misunderstand ing to misunderstanding, during the time that Diderot was publishing the Fils naturel and was being crowned with laurel leaves by his friends and contumely by his foes, France was locked in a struggle with England and Prussia that should rightly be regarded as one of the first world wars. It was in 1757, the year of the Fils naturel, that the Bridsh court-martialed their admiral Byng for letting the French capture Port Mahon and had him shot on his own quarterdeck to encourage the others/ wrote Voltaire grimly; it was in 1757 that Pitt formed his second ministry and out of disorganization fashioned order, and victory out of defeat; and, finally, it was in 1757 that the French won a battle at Hastenbeck and suffered a national humiliation at Rossbach.

Little as Diderot concerned himself with the vicissitudes of the war, he and his Encyclopedic nevertheless came under some suspicion because of it. Principally this was because Frederick the Great, now a national enemy, had singled out Diderot and D Alembert for honors. They were members of his Academy, as the tide pages of the successive volumes of the Encyclopedic testified, and D Alembert in particular seldom overlooked an opportunity in articles he wrote for the Encyclopedic to praise the philosopher King. During the Seven Years War anyone who could be called an Encyclopedist or a philosophy was by that very token imputed to be a bad citizen, recalled Condorcet, because France at that time was the enemy of a philosopher king who, justly appreciating merit, had given public testimonials of esteem to some of the authors of the Encyclopedic x In addition, the Encyclopedists, especially Diderot, were hospitable to ideas from abroad, most of all to

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British ones, and in a time of national emergency this could be represented, even in that milder age, as faintly smacking of the subversive.

The year 1757 began on a somber note in the political history of France, for on 5 January Louis XV was attacked in the palace at Versailles by a man who, mingling freely and unchallenged among the courtiers, got close enough to the King to wound him slightly with a double-bladed knife. 2 French opinion was appalled. So was the King, who feared that the knife, since the wound it inflicted was so trifling, must be poisoned. Damiens, the attacker, was easily disarmed, and in due time impressively and hor ribly executed. The King, of course, recovered, but the net result of the incident was to suggest that the current freedom of canvassing ideas, limited as it was, had somehow unsettled Damiens mind and was in general a threat to national security. An alarmed public opinion was ready to accept strong measures. In February the syndic of the press and his deputies warned the members of their guild neither to print nor to sell anything regarding present affairs. 3 On 16 April there was promulgated a Royal Declaration, a stupendous pronunciamento that stipulated that All those who shall be convicted of writing or of having had written or of printing any writing tending to attack religion, to rouse opinion, to impair Our authority, and to trouble the order and tranquillity of Our States shall be punished by death. With reference to all other writings of whatsoever kind, not falling under the description of Article I, it is Our pleasure that, for not having observed the formalities prescribed by Our ordinances, authors, printers, booksellers, peddlers, and all other persons disseminating such writings among the public shall be condemned to the galleys for life, or for a term suiting the gravity of the case. 4

This was scarcely a favorable climate for the dissemination of new ideas. Nevertheless, from D Alembert s point of view, the seventh volume of the Encyclopedic might be the best yet, if we may believe his letters to Voltaire. Without doubt, he added, in a letter written in July, we have some bad articles on theology and metaphysics, but, with censors who are theologians, and with a license, I defy you to make them better. There are other articles, less in the open daylight, where everything is made up for. Time will make the distinction between what we have thought and what we have said. 5 Just as the seventh volume was about to be published, there appeared in the October issue of the Mercure de France a formidable attack upon the philosophes. For some time there had been a lull in the hail of pamphlets that had pelted the Encyclopedists, but this persiflage in the Mercure gave the signal and set the style for a new onslaught that was destined to end in


RISING OPPOSITION; D ALEMBERT S BLUNDER IN VOLUME vii 277

catastrophe for the Encyclopedic. The article was written by a certain Jacob- Nicolas Moreau, a publicist who had currently been writing (in a little magazine called the Qbservateur Hollandais) a series o comments upon foreign affairs favorable to the policy of the French government and, in fact, subsidized by it. 6 Moreau was by no means a prominent man of letters, and never became one, but his invention of the word Cacouac to ridicule the philosophes was one of the palpable hits of the eighteenth century. He published his attack in the form of a Due Warning printed in the Mercure. These Cacouacs, recently discovered and hitherto unsuspected enemies of the public, were strange and loathsome creatures, Savages fiercer and more redoubtable than the Caribs ever were. . . . Their weapons consist solely of a poison hidden under their tongues* As they are no less cowardly than malevolent, they make a frontal attack only upon those from whom they believe they have nothing to fear. Most frequently they cast their poison from behind. . . . Their whole substance is nothing but venom and cor ruption. The source of it is inexhaustible and is always flowing. 7

Just as the public was becoming Cacouac-conscious in this autumn of 1757, Volume VII was published. 8 Many of its important articles were unexceptionable. Among these were Geometry by D Alembert, and Geog raphy by the King s Geographer (Robert de Vaugondy), and those pre senting the most recent developments in technology, such as the long and detailed articles on Iron-works (Forges, Grosses-) or Stoves (Fourneau). But, as always with the Encyclopedic, its articles reflected a desire for im provement and a willingness to experiment with change. Quesnay, in his article on Grain/ wanted free trade in that commodity. Turgot, who was already enjoying a high reputation as a magistrate, wrote the article Fair (Foire), and concluded that the great merchant fairs are never as useful as the restraint of trade that they entail is harmful; and that far from their constituting the proof of the flourishing state of commerce, they can exist, on the contrary, only in those states where commerce is hindered, over burdened with taxes, and consequently indifferently great. 9 And, as always, the Encyclopedic sighed for a state of affairs wherein thought would be freer, tolerance more broad. Thus the Abbe Morellet dared to praise religious freedom in the United Provinces. The Dutch magistrates have finally learned,* he was allowed to write, in an article that he tells us was heavily censored, that for the sake of peace they should abstain from participating in such disputes; allow theologians to speak and write as they please; let them confer if they want to, and come to decisions, if that pleases them; and especially persecute no one.* 10


g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

In a very important and influential article on Endowments (Fondation), Turgot examined, as he said, the utility of [perpetual] endowments in general in regard to the public welfare, or, rather ... the disadvantages of them. Even endowments made for the best of motives to say nothing of those set up out of vanity tend to outlive their usefulness, or to encour age mendicancy instead of discouraging it, or to be abusively administered. Salutary change could be brought about, he wrote, either by improved laws applying to all of society or by temporary endowments subject to discon tinuation when the need was past, such as was then being done by associations of citizens in various places in England, Scotland, and Ireland for the purpose of increasing employment. What has occurred in England can take place in France: for, whatsoever one may say, the English do not have the ex clusive right of being citizens a daring thing to publish in an absolute monarchy in the midst of a war with England. In this article Turgot used time and again the stirring word citizen, and said that employments and offices of all kinds should become the recompense of merit. What the state owes to each of its members is the destruction of obstacles that would hinder them in their industry, or that would disturb them in the enjoyment of the products that are the recompense of it. It was not for nothing that Turgot was a close friend of Gournay, the man who invented the formula of laissez-faire et laissez-passer. Noteworthy in this article is the sober but earnest appeal to public opinion, and the reference to public utility as the criterion of decision. Public utility is the supreme law/ wrote Turgot in this article a principal tenet of faith of the Encyclopedists in regard to all social, economic, and political policy, and one capable of cutting through all the political obscurantisms of the ancien regime. 1 *

This article was published without attribution to Turgot, so that Diderot, as editor, accepted the further responsibility of seeming to be its author. If to praise the English was to be unpatriotic, Diderot took the burden of it. If it was subversive to assume that the state owes something to its members, if it was disloyal to speak of the state rather than the king, Diderot shouldered that onus, too.

The Encyclopedist lack of interest in political and diplomatic history of the conventional sort is exemplified by the brevity of the article devoted to Trance/ This article, written by De Jaucourt, disposes of the subject in only nine hundred words, and many of these are taken up, not by an account of French history, but by deploring France s uneven distribution of wealth (comparing it to Rome at the time of the fall of the Republic ), the depopulation of the provinces, the overimportance of Paris, and the


RISING OPPOSITION; D ALEMBERT S BLUNDER IN VOLUME vn 279

poverty of the cultivators of the soil. And De Jaucourt, using the technique of cross reference, declares that causes and remedies of these evils are not hard to find: See the articles "Tax" "Tolerance" &c. 12 But if the Ency clopedic was not interested in political history, nevertheless it had a political point of view, and in the article on Government De Jaucourt wrote, The people s greatest good is its liberty. Liberty is to the corporate body of the state what health is to each individual. Without health, man cannot savor pleasure. Without liberty, happiness is banished from states. 13

In theological and religious matters, the Encyclopedic continued its policy of pinpricks and knowing winks. The article on Grace, for example, which may have been written by Diderot, commented somewhat obtrusively upon the futility of a subject that had not seemed so to Saint Augustine. Besides, wrote this unknown author, so much has been written upon this subject without in any way illuminating it that we apprehend laboring quite as use lessly. The principal works of the theologians of the several parties may be read concerning these matters. The discussions, very frequently minute and futile, to which they have given rise, do not deserve a place in a philosophical work, however encyclopedic it may be. 14 Nor did the Encyclopedists forget to twit the Jesuits, as when Voltaire began his brief but ostentatiously learned article on Fornication : The Dictionnaire dc Trevoux says that it [fornica tion] is a term in theology ! 15

Regarding the history of religions, the Encyclopedic sought as usual to find a rational explanation for the origin of what it regarded as irrational practices. Thus Diderot wrote of the Roman sacrifice of milch cows heavy with calf (in Fordicides } , his explanation of this pagan phenomenon being that Numa had instituted the practice to alleviate some calamity, such as a lack of forage, and that the sacrifice had continued long after the condition necessitating it had passed away. From which I conclude, he wrote gravely, that one cannot be too circumspect when commanding something in the name of the gods. 16 This method of studying primitive religious practices, not unlike Sir James Frazer s in The Golden Bough, was best displayed in Volume VII in a re markable article on the Parsees (Guebres). Starting with the tenets of Parsee faith, the author, Nicolas-Antoine Boulanger, broadened out to give a theory of the origin of myths and of their role in all religions. 17 It was a way of sug gesting, of course, the genesis of Genesis.

Diderot s contributions to Volume VII were not numerous, but a reader finds the now familiar touches : the graceful image *I regard these fragments of philosophy that time has allowed to come down to us as though they were planks that the wind casts up on our shores after a shipwreck, allowing us


2 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

sometimes to judge o the size of the vessel ; the subjective O sweet illusion of poetry! You are no less charming to me than truth itself. May you touch me and please me until my last moments ; 18 and the personal, this time a portrait of himself in reverse in his article on Formalists, In his distaste for the pettifoggers of good form, Diderot showed himself par excellence the man who always hated to wear a wig. 19

Famous among the articles of the Encyclopedic, and perhaps the most fate ful of them all, was D Alembert s ill-starred contribution on Geneva. Usually the Encyclopedic had almost nothing to say under the heading of sovereign states three-fifths of a column allotted to England, a column to Genoa, a little over a column to Spain, seventeen lines to Denmark but to Geneva D Alembert devoted four double-columned pages. His knowledge was first hand, acquired during his visit to Voltaire in the summer of 1756. Gossip had it, after the storm broke, that Voltaire had put D Alembert up to writing the article and that Voltaire might even have written part of it himself, as Rousseau believed, the purpose being to insert in it proposals for allowing the production of plays in Geneva. 20 In that Calvinist city-state the theater was looked upon with as much favor as it was at about the same time by, say, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, or the divines of Salem, Providence, and New Haven. To this subject D Alembert devoted a whole column : Tlays are not allowed at Geneva, not because stage spectacles are there disapproved of in themselves, but because, it is said, of the fear of the taste for display, dis sipation, and libertinage that companies of actors communicate to the youth. Nevertheless, would it not be possible to remedy this drawback by having severe and strictly executed laws governing the conduct of actors? 21

On the whole, D Alembert had evidently intended to be very complimentary to Geneva, especially because, like Tacitus writing about the Germans, he wished to improve his own countrymen by calling their attention to more virtuous foreigners. Thus he pointed out that the Genevese did not allow prisoners to be put on the rack, save in very special circumstances, and he spoke with great approval perhaps he had imbibed this doctrine, too, from Voltaire, who had long believed in it of their practice of burying the dead in a cemetery outside the city. 22 He also approved of the rigorous examination of the theology and morals of a minister before he was ordained and evidently before he was assigned to a pastorate, remarking that it is to be wished that most of our Catholic churches would follow their example. But D Alembert was a prim and schoolmasterish man, and he could not forbear remarking on matters that the Genevese could scarcely be blamed for thinking were none of his business. Thus he reproved them for retaining a certain part of


RISING OPPOSITION; D ALEMBERT S BLUNDER IN VOLUME vii 281

their heraldic coat of arms. He told them that they should obliterate a certain inscription upon their city hall. Speaking of their divine services, he remarked that the singing is in rather bad taste and the French verses that are sung arc worse yet. It is to be hoped that Geneva will reform itself upon these two points. He observed that Calvin was as enlightened a theologian as a heretic can be/ a remark which probably displeased the Calvinists as being too grudging and the Sorbonne as being too generous. 23 In short, it is likely that a Genevese would have read D Alembert s article with more irritation than gratification, and it is hard not to look upon it as a monument of tactless ness. From whatever point of view this article is regarded, one is tempted to say, in the vernacular of American sports, that D Alembert led with his chin.

Nor was this the sum total of its offenses. The article Geneva almost occa sioned an official protest from the Genevese government to the French gov ernment because of the remarks D Alembert made about the condition of religious belief in that sovereign city-state: Several [of the clergy] no longer believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. . . . several of the pastors of Geneva have no other religion than a perfect Socinianism, rejecting everything hav ing to do with mysteries, and conceiving that the fundamental principle of a true religion is to propose for belief nothing shocking to reason. 24

Soon after the publication of Volume VII, Grimm was calling this article a blunder, and reporting that it was creating a great stir at Paris. 25 It created an even greater one at Geneva, where the corps of Calvinist ministers were highly embarrassed by this public allegation that they were deists or, at the least, a variety of eighteenth-century Unitarian. To call a person a Socinian when he was officially committed to a belief in the Trinity and in revelation was to use fighting words, and it is not surprising that the ministers sought public amends. The Council of Geneva meeting on 9 December tried to find whether there be not some measures to take in order to have this article changed or suppressed. 26 It hesitated to make a formal complaint to the French government only for fear that the French would make some disagree able demand in return. As late as 15 January 1758, the possibility that an official complaint would be lodged with the French government was not entirely past. 27 Meanwhile, the Company of Pastors appointed a Committee of Nine to draw up a reply. The Declaration they formulated was sent to all the editors of Europe and Freron printed it in his Annie Litterairc in February of that year. 28

The secretary of this committee was a Genevese layman, Dr. Theodore Tronchin, the famous physician who in 1756 had made himself one of the best-known men in France by his successful inoculation against smallpox


n DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

of the two children of the Duke of Orl&ns. 29 At that time he had become acquainted with Diderot, and in due course he became a contributor to the Encyclopedic, his article being, appropriately enough, the one on Inocula tion. 30 One of his first duties as secretary of the Committee of Nine was to write to D Alembert and Diderot to secure a retraction. D Alembert s reply gave him no satisfaction at all 31 From Diderot he received a letter that illu mines the relations between the two editors and implies that Diderot had disapproved of his colleague s action. 32

This letter, evidently composed with great care, if we may judge from the profusion of conditional tenses, suggests a divergence in editorial policy be tween the two men. Although Diderot did not explicitly claim that he tried to prevent the publication of the article, he did say he had had no share in it and he certainly implied that he would not have published it had the de cision depended upon him. Did he really advise against its publication, or was he trying to deceive Tronchin into believing that he had? The latter alternative seems the less likely, for Diderot was not a pusillanimous man. An attempt on his part to cultivate Tronchin s good will at D Alembert s ex pense is not in character. Besides, Diderot must have realized how much it was to the interest of the Encyclopedic to preserve a united front in this crisis. Indeed, one may well ask why he did not assume equal responsibility as far as Tronchin was concerned, whether or not this corresponded to the reality of the case, and try to brave it out. On the contrary, he steadfastly claimed not to be responsible, although offering to take the blame publicly on himself. Finally, if it be remembered that D Alembert never alleged, either in his letter to Tronchin or in his correspondence with Voltaire, that Diderot had approved of the article on Geneva before or after its publication, the inference that Diderot disapproved of publishing the article seems strong. Had D Alembert been able to divide responsibility with Diderot, it would have been manifestly to his advantage to do so.

It is evident that Tronchin interpreted the situation as meaning that Diderot had not favored publication. Writing to a Swiss colleague a few days after receiving Diderot s letter, Tronchin remarked that His co-editor, Diderot, who is, of all the men I know, the most humane, would never have done what D Alembert did. And Tronchin continued (but unfortunately without citing sources), Opinion was unanimous against the article, before it was printed. Therefore M. d Alembert cannot say that he did not foresee its effect. He alone held out against them all. Whatsoever reasons were used to combat his obstinacy, he did not wish to give in, [and] the article was printed. 33


RISING OPPOSITION; D ALEMBERT S BLUNDER IN VOLUME vii 283

What, after all, can explain Diderot s willingness to allow Tronchin to in fer that he had not approved of D Alembcrt s article? Could Diderot have been motivated by the desire to prevent Voltaire from ever again using the Encyclopedic to serve his own private purposes? As Grimm remarked in the Correspondence litteraire and his and Diderot s ideas did not usually diverge very far *I cannot express how out of place this whole article was in the Encyclopedic, in which the city of Geneva ought to occupy the space of three or four lines, and not entire columns for the purpose of telling us what it should or should not do a subject absolutely foreign to the arts and sciences that constitute the subject of this dictionary. 3 * Diderot s usual policy of holding Voltaire at arm s length made itself very conspicuous at this junc ture. Voltaire repeatedly sent regards to Diderot in letters to D Alembert and even in a letter to the publisher Briasson. 35 Diderot did not reciprocate. Then Voltaire, in this crisis, wrote directly several times, but to his extreme annoy ance, Diderot neglected to reply. 36 Perhaps Diderot thought it outrageous of Voltaire and D Alembert, too to jeopardize the fate of the whole En cyclopedic so that Voltaire might see a play in Geneva. It is therefore con ceivable that Diderot welcomed the opportunity of a showdown with D Alem bert, once the latter had precipitated the issue of Voltaire s influence in so clean-cut a fashion. The distrust of D Alembert that Diderot had already evinced in the letter written in 1755 makes this explanation even more likely. 37 Unquestionably the Encyclopedic was made vulnerable by the article on Geneva. It seemed presumptuous and arrogant in its cocksureness regarding matters both temporal and spiritual. It tended to reflect on the judgment of the editors. And just as it came close to involving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so, too, it almost precipitated an investigation by the Parlement of Paris. It is asserted, wrote D Alembert to Voltaire, reporting this new dan ger, that I praise the ministers of Geneva in a fashion prejudicial to the Cath olic Church. 38 The enemies of the Encyclopedic were becoming bolder, and scarcely anyone missed the significance of the fact that a Jesuit dared to preach a sermon at Versailles, in the presence of the King, attacking the Encyclo pedic?* The article on Geneva was not the sole cause of the increasing com plaints against the work, but it undoubtedly encouraged the accelerating tempo of the attack*

Furthermore, it is probable that D Alembert s ill-favored article on Geneva precipitated the crisis regarding censorship that overtook the Encyclopedic following the publication of the seventh volume. If the Parlement of Paris should investigate the Encyclopedic, as it threatened, then it was inevitable that a number of searching questions would be asked as to how offending


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

204

passages had happened to secure approval. Evidently Malesherbes deemed it prudent, for his own protection, to ask the questions first. An undated note in his almost illegible hand stated that I learned with the greatest surprise that articles had been printed that had not been reviewed by any one of the three theologian censors . In another notation Malesherbes revealed how this had happened. Undated and unsigned but unquestionably m his highly in dividual writing, it stated that the agreement of I75 2 was observed for the third volume and, at most, for the fourth. Since that time the editors and publishers have fallen again into the habit of arbitrarily sending each article to the censor in whose province they deemed it to belong. This is what has given rise to the complaints occasioned by the seventh volume. 41 Nor did the publishers deny that this was what had occurred. Le Breton wrote to Malesherbes on 24 December to say that there have not been printed any sheets, particularly of the last five volumes of the Encydopedie, without their being initialed by one of the censors whom you have assigned to us, but he could not claim that everything had been reviewed and passed by one of the theologian censors. 42 From this Malesherbes evidently concluded that these censors had been negligent, for he drafted a very stiff rebuke to the chief of them, commenting on the publication of some articles which it is impossible

that any one of you three had approved You ought to have complained

that the present rule was being evaded, and because you have not done so, you have shared in the transgression of the authors and printers. 43 Henceforth, every single sheet was to be initialed by one of the three theologian censors. Malesherbes was fortunate that the breakdown of his previous orders did not become public knowledge, and he was quite justified in insisting that the rules agreed upon in 1752 should be carried out punctiliously. Nevertheless D Alembert, particularly, chose to regard Malesherbes orders as a new en croachment and another grievance.

Hostile pamphlets also plagued D Alembert at this time. One of them was Little Letters on Great Philosophers by Palissot whose enmity D Alem bert had earned in 1755 when he protested in Rousseau s behalf against Le Cercle. Now Palissot, young in years but old in enmity, returned to the at tack, an attack which D Alembert believed to have the protection of patrons in very high places. In just a few pages Palissot managed to touch a great many sore spots. He twitted Diderot and D Alembert for having copied Bacon servilely ; ridiculed Diderot s opening words in his Pensees sur I in- terpretation de la nature, Young man, take and read ; laughed at the state ment that deer attain the age of reason; sneered at Diderot s pamphlet on Encaustic ; remarked that the editors formerly praised Rameau; and chided


RISING OPPOSITION; D ALEMBERT S BLUNDER IN VOLUME vii 285

them for being so morbidly sensitive to criticism. Palissot accused his enemies of monopolizing the term philosopher All these gentlemen call them selves Philosophers. Some of them are. He took care to remind the public that D Alembert was the beneficiary of a Prussian pension, and he also criti cized the D Alembert eulogy of Montesquieu which had appeared as a fore word to Volume V: There reigns in it a tone that is revolting. It is not so much the expression of public admiration as it is an order to the Nation to believe in the merit of this illustrious writer. Most of all, Palissot com plained of the philosophes forming a party, of their pronouncing upon repu tations, of the ostentatious praise that these gentlemen mete out to one an other, of this tone of inspiration on the part of some, of emphasis on the part of others, of their intolerance, of their setting up for themselves a literary throne, of their saying in effect that No one shall have wit save us and our friends. And Palissot hinted that the philosophes were by way of becoming a church: At the front of certain philosophical productions one may observe a tone of authority and assurance that until now only the pulpit has exer cised. 44

This was quite bad enough, especially after Freron lovingly reviewed it in his Annee Litteraire.^ But Moreau s New Memoir to Serve toward the History of the Cacouacs was even worse. In this more extensive account of the habits and manners of those formidable creatures, the author informed the public that the only weapon that the Cacouacs feared was a whistle. Whistling put them into disarray and sent them headlong into flight, a remark disclosing that in the eighteenth century as in the twentieth, whistling is to a Frenchman what booing is to an American today. The author of the Memoir* had forgotten his whistle and was consequently captured by the Cacouacs. He was disarmed to the strains of Italian music, and then an old man came into the room with a book, and said, Young man, take and read. The Cacouacs, according to their prisoner, were anarchists; they denied the existence of the gods; the only thievery they permitted themselves was that of the thoughts of others; they particularly coveted the glory of destroying 1 ; they were absolutely indifferent to patriotism, no longer recognizing any other fatherland than that of the entire universe; and by common consent they accepted lying as a general practice. The captive discovered that the Cacouacs were great talkers : their language has something sublime and unintelligible in it that inspires respect and arouses admiration. He himself became pro ficient in their idiom: I continued to shine. Ideas came to me. But if some times they failed me, I had some big words to put in their place, and I no ticed that then it was that I was applauded the most vigorously. He was


2 g5 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

initiated into their mysteries by being permitted to peep into their seven sacred coffers (the seven volumes o the Encyclopedic). With surprise I observed a confused mass of the most heterogeneous materials gold dust mixed with iron filings and lead slag, diamonds half-concealed in piles of ashes, and the salts of the most salubrious plants mixed up with the most noxious poisons/ The prisoner was given a valet, who robbed him while virtuously quoting to him his own philosophical principles. This valet, moreover, had written a book entitled New Discoveries about Tragedy, or the Art of Com posing Very Fine Scenes out of Grimaces. After a number of adventures, the captive was able to return to his own country. There he discovered that it was later than he thought: the Cacouacs were already there! These danger ous and ridiculous Cacouacs ... had been given the name of Philosophes, and their works were being printed! 4e

Americans have a phrase to describe this kind of persiflage a rock in every snowball. Diderot seems to have borne it without a flutter of nerves, but D Alembert was overawed because he believed it to be officially inspired and because he claimed to know that Malesherbes, although desirous of prevent ing publication, had received orders from higher up to see that it was not suppressed. 47

At this singularly unpropitious time, D Alembert chose to draw a large draft on Malesherbes fund of good will. Freron, as may readily be imagined, had unctuously and gleefully digested the New Memoir for his readers, for getting none of the most painful parts. 48 But whereas Moreau had not alluded to D Alembert by name, Freron inserted in a footnote a reference to one of D Alembert s works, thus making the connection unmistakable. It was, in fact, as Malesherbes called it, nothing but a subtlety, but nevertheless D Alem bert took great umbrage. 49 Malesherbes was sufficiently moved by D Alem bert s protest to inquire of Freron by what right he used personalities in at tacking his enemies, to which Freron made sturdy and independent reply. 50 Yet it is evident that Malesherbes, although he wrote to Freron, was never theless exasperated by D Alembert s protest. Moreover, Malesherbes was very aware of his own delicate position at this particular time, for he wrote to the Abbe Morellet, who became the intermediary in the affair, 1 am even more sorry to see how the chagrin caused by the pamphlets has blinded him to the point of not sensing how indiscreet it is and, I venture to say, unreasonable, coolly to demand redress from Freron at the moment when the seventh vol ume of the Encyclopedic and especially the article "Geneva" have excited the most powerful outcries, and when one cannot defend the work nor take the side of the authors without exposing oneself personally to very grave re-


RISING OPPOSITION; D ALEMBERT S BLUNDER IN VOLUME vii 287

proaches. 5 51 In this letter and in one to D Alembert, Malesherbes outlined the guiding principles of his administration. 52 These were liberal and inspiring documents, even though, as Malesherbes predicted and as Morellet tells us in his Memoires, D Alembert was very discontented with them. 53 The inci dent shows clearly enough that of the two men, the magistrate and the writer, it was not the writer who desired freedom of the press. Malesherbes implied that what D Alembert wanted was the right to say what he pleased and the refusal of the same right to his enemies an analysis very close to the truth. His protest to Malesherbes against Freron was so poorly justified and so plainly ill-timed that Malesherbes began to suspect an ulterior motive. In the draft of his letter to Morellet, Malesherbes wrote (and then scratched out) the following sentences: If I knew M. d Alembert less well, I might suspect him of seeking to prepare, relative to the public, a pretext for quitting the Encyclopedic. But I do not believe him capable of it. 54

As early as i January 1758 D Alembert claimed to have informed Males herbes and the publishers of his decision to give up the Encyclopedic; and in his reply of 6 January 1758 to Tronchin, he added a postscript: *I ought to add, Monsieur, that reasons of an essential character, having no relation to the article "Geneva," oblige me to give up my work on the Encyclopedic absolutely and once for all. Thus it seems to me that this work, brought to a stop in the middle of its course, no longer merits becoming the subject of the complaints of your clergy. 55 It is of great interest to notice that at this writing D Alembert evidently took it for granted that his quitting would mean the end of the Encyclopedic. Five days later he wrote to Voltaire that he did not know whether the Encyclopedic would be continued or not. What is certain is that it won t be by me. I have just notified M. de Malesherbes and the publishers that they may search for my successor. I am worn out by the in sults and vexations of all kinds that this work brings down upon us. 56

Before receiving the foregoing letter Voltaire heard a rumor that D Alem bert was intending to quit and hastened to urge him to stick it out. 57 Then, in answering D Alembert s letter, Voltaire again urged him not to resign. Do not abandon it. Do not do what your ridiculous enemies want. Do not give them this insolent triumph. ... I know that it is shameful that a so ciety of superior intelligences, working for the good of the human race, should be subject to censors not worthy of reading you; but can you not choose reasonable revisers? Cannot M. de Malesherbes aid you in this choice? 58 But D Alembert, replying to the first adjuration, wrote that In regard to the Encyclopedie, when you press me to take it up again, you are ignorant of the position we are in and of the fury of the authorities against us. ...


2 38 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

I don t know what course Diderot will take. I doubt that he will continue without me. But I know that if he does, he is preparing for himself trials and tribulations for ten years/ 59

Quite suddenly Voltaire had an abrupt change of heart. Instead of be seeching D Alembert to stay on, he now began to insist that everyone con nected with the Encyclopedic should quit with him. 60 As long as Voltaire had supposed that the author of the memoir about the Cacouacs was a Jesuit or inspired by the Jesuits, he was brave. But when he learned from D Alembert that these attacks were protected and perhaps inspired by the Court, he be gan to be very cautious and, while still lustily blowing the trumpet for a charge, hastily beat a retreat. 61 Reversing his earlier and braver sentiments, he now wrote that it is absolutely necessary that all those who have worked with you should quit with you. Will they be so unworthy of the name of philosopher, so cowardly as to abandon you? 62 Frightened himself, Voltaire found it a good time for calling other people cowards. 1 have already told you/ he wrote to D Alembert on 13 February, that I wrote Diderot more than six weeks ago, first to beg him to give you courage regarding the ar ticle "Geneva" in case they tried to intimidate you, secondly to say to him that he must join himself to you, quit with you, and not take up the work again except with you. I repeat to you, it is infamous not to be united as brothers in such a situation. I have also written to Diderot to return my letters [and my] articles. . . . Henceforth I do not wish to furnish a line to the Encyclopedic. Those who will not act like me are cowards, unworthy of the name of men of letters. . . . 63

D Alembert does well to quit, wrote Voltaire to a friend in Paris, and the others, by continuing, are acting like cowards. 64

Throughout this flurry of volubly explaining why one should give up, there was one of the protagonists who said nothing. In all this scurry of letting go, one man held fast. Diderot simply kept on. No doubt the per plexities of the situation were increased by his friends pressure on him. Even Rousseau, frightened by the rumors that are going about regarding the Encyclopedic and fearing for Diderot s safety, wrote a letter urging him to quit if D Alembert did, although it is not known (the letter not being ex tant) whether he too called Diderot a coward! 65 In mid-February Diderot at last wrote to Voltaire, excusing himself for not having replied earlier, and describing his motives for not giving up or finishing in a foreign country, as Voltaire had suggested. They were motives which Voltaire grumbled at and which D Alembert obviously did not regard as decisive, but nevertheless the letter shows a willingness to accept moral responsibilities and honor them


RISING OPPOSITION; D ALEMBERT S BLUNDER IN VOLUME vn 289

in the face of adversity that ought to be acknowledged as commendable and courageous:

... To abandon the work is to turn one s back on the breach and do what the rascals who persecute us desire. If you but knew with what joy they learned of D Alembert s desertion and what maneuvers they undertake to prevent him from returning!

What Diderot really thought of D Alembert s action is revealed by that word desertion. His own attitude, Diderot wrote later in his letter, was not inspired by an overwhelming fondness for the Encyclopedic:

My dear master, I have passed my fortieth year. I am weary of bickering. From morning to night I cry Rest! Rest!* and there is scarcely a day when I am not tempted to go to live obscurely and die tranquilly in the remotest part of my province.

But this was the second movement, written in a minor key, of a battle symphony. What was it, then, that Diderot thought should be done?

That which is suitable for men of courage: Despise our enemies, pursue them, and profit, as we have already done, from the imbecility of our censors. ... Is it honest to disappoint the expectations of four thousand subscribers, and do we have no obligations in respect to the publishers? If D Alembert starts over again and we complete the work, won t we be avenged? . . . Someone else might re joice over his desertion, seeing gain in it of honor, money, repose. As for me, I am disconsolate over it, and I shall neglect nothing to bring him back. Now is the moment for me to show him how much I am attached to him, and I shall not fail either him or myself. But for God s sake, do not counteract me. I know how great is the influence you have over him, and it will be useless for me to prove to him that he is wrong if you tell him that he is right.


Don t be angry any longer, and especially do not ask me any more for [the re turn of] your letters; for I would send them back to you and never forget such an injury. Your articles I do not have, they are in D Alembert s hands and you well know it. 66

Voltaire did not receive Diderot s letter with very good grace. The trouble all arises from M. Diderot s not making from the first the same declaration as M. d Alembert. 67 It is a pitiful thing, he wrote a month later, that asso ciates of such high merit should be masters neither of their own work nor of their thoughts. Accordingly the edifice is built half of marble and half of mud/ 68


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


much a disappointment to D Alembert as it dedsion to

"somc Me consideradoa and some support. The justice he asked for Zed U he realized, perhaps too late, that henceforth nothing mike the Encycloptdie secure from the gravest and most unjust impu- t tan the soft of inquisition being prepared to be used against it. Th rlre he adopted the wise policy of henceforth lunmng hmse f - duLy in this Dictionary to the mathematical part, winch cannot be sub- d dtTer to the clamors of false zealots or to the chicanery of a censor, and which, besides, is the only part for which he contracted solemn engage-

^ e :;" G L the disconcerting e*ect of putting D Alembert at odds with people whom he assuredly did not want to antagonize -with ^e cltgy of Geneva, with the Court at Versailles, with the Clement of Paris with Diderot, with Malesherbes, and even, most unexpectedly, with Rousseau. For Jean-Jacques, nostalgically remembering his childhood m the puritan city of his birth, took exception to D Alembert s arguments for aUow- Lg theatrical productions in Geneva. The result was a spmted htt k book attacking the theater as an immoral and enervating institution and defending republican simplicity. Rousseau s La** a D Alembert sur Its spectacles was written just at the time of greatest strain and anguish in the relations of Rousseau and Diderot, and its publication revealed with dramatic emphasis to the jubilant enemies of the Encycloptdie that their foes camp was di vided, their united front broken. Thus was added still another to the cata logue of woes that the article Geneva brought in its train.


CHAPTER 22


I Used To Have an Aristarchus . . , I Wish To Have Him No Longer


"TVRECisELY at the time that his friendship with Rous- IT seau was slowly going to pieces, Diderot was con tinually beset by other distractions and anxieties. As always, there was the routine of editing the Encyclopedic, the chronic and Spartan necessity of earn ing a livelihood, of paying the rent at the Rue Taranne. Added to this was the time spent in creating and defending his controversial experiments in playwriting. This was the year in which he had the exhilaration of being hailed as a dramatist of genius and the bitterness of being called a plagiarist of the very first rank. This was the time when he seems to have cherished the intoxicating hope of election to the French Academy, Perhaps it was the time, too, when he came to the grim realization that his hopes would never be fulfilled. This was the year in which he was held up to scorn as a Cacouac, when the article Geneva put the Encyclopedic in jeopardy, when his relations with D Alembert and Voltaire were under almost as great stress as were his relations with Rousseau. The strain of such events no doubt made it more difficult to maintain his balanced judgment in regard to Rous seau, just as his worsening relations with Rousseau probably affected ad versely the other crises through which he was living. Reciprocally, one mag nified the other.

Rousseau was meanwhile living on at the Hermitage, to all outward ap pearances calm, nevertheless seething within. His agitation was partly caused by an extremely sensitive and imaginative nature, which impelled him to^be suspicious of the motives of his friends and created an appalling conviction of ever-threatening menace and ever-darkling doom. Partly his excitement came from meditating upon what was to become his great love story, La Nouvelle Helo ise. Rousseau was in the grip of a tumultuous and irresistible

291


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

passion. He was in love with love. And, as usually happens to men in that condition, it was not long before his affections lit on a person who seemed to him to be the very incarnation of his dreams.

This lady, whom he had known slightly for several years, was Sophie, Countess d Houdetot, the sister-in-law of his benefactress, Mme d Epinay. In her person the Countess connects the French Enlightenment with the early days of the Republic of the United States, for Ambassador Thomas Jefferson frequented her social circle and found her charming. Now twenty-seven, she had married at the age of seventeen, had separated from her husband, and, when Rousseau fell in love with her, was living at Eaubonne, not far from the Hermitage. Mme d Houdetot was a young woman full of high spirits, far from overserious, capable of witty badinage, and endowed with a fair share of coquetry. She could, moreover, turn a pretty piece of verse, and en couraged the supposition that she was the authoress of a much esteemed Hymn to Breasts, written, it was suspected, for the purpose of stimulating curiosity regarding her own. 1

The course of true love was troubled by some rather fundamental draw backs. In the first place, the lady was not very much in love with Rousseau, if at all, although she seems to have been flattered by his attentions. In addition, she was already the mistress of another man, a man to whom she was to remain faithful for fifty-one years. Her lover was the Marquis de Saint-Lambert, a soldier and poet who some years earlier, because of his capacity for begetting, had been the indirect cause of the death of Mme du Chatelet. His liaison with Mme d Houdetot had begun in 1752.2 Now, in this crucial spring and summer of 1757, he was on active duty with the French army in Westphalia, where he now and again saw Grimm, and from whom he seems to have learned that Mme d Houdetot was seeing more of Jean- Jacques than could be regarded as discreet. This was the end of the idyllic phase of Jean-Jacques s love affair. Saint-Lambert evidently rebuked Mme d Houdetot. She in turn told Jean-Jacques, who hotly accused Mme d Epinay of informing Saint-Lambert. This was an accusation that Mme d Epinay found hard to forgive, and it is difficult to say whether much friendship was left between her and Rousseau after the day of the five notes, occurring in late August of I757* 3

Throughout this prolonged crisis the much bedeviled Rousseau tried to conceal two pieces of material information, as a result of which all the other protagonists in the imbroglio, particularly Diderot, felt as though they were groping in the dark. In the first place, Rousseau was very reluctant to admit that he was in love with Mme d Houdetot. It was transparent enough to any-


  • I USED TO HAVE AN ARISTARCHUS . . / 293

one who lived in his society, yet he never admitted it to Mme d Epinay nor to Grimm nor to Saint-Lambert, and he clearly implies that he did not con- fess to Diderot that he was in love until the last interview that they ever had, which took place at the Hermitage on 5 December 1757. But even then he concealed from Diderot a second bit of material information. As he him self wrote in his Confessions regarding this conversation, 1 never admitted that Mme d Houdetot knew of it or at least that I had declared it to her. * Rousseau had of course declared his love. But his situation was perplexing and delicate, for Mme d Houdetot was not supposed to be fancy-free. Rous seau, moreover, was under moral obligation not to take advantage of a man s absence to alienate the affections of his mistress. In these circumstances, Rousseau s high reputation for virtue being what it was, he was subject to the subtle temptation of awakening her moral scruples with regard to her liaison with Saint-Lambert. Rousseau s passion for Mme d Houdetot is a re warding subject for study in the casebook of the psychology of love. Every man is a Saint Anthony, but the forms in which temptation appears are various. The almost infinite capacity for subconscious self-deception, for con fusing virtue and desire, is nowhere better shown than in the paradoxical, hypocritical, and pathetic figure of the austere citizen, the stern, republican man of virtue, overwhelmingly tempted to arousing conscientious scruples in another man s mistress hi the hope of seducing her himself. Of course Rousseau never put it this way to himself, yet he came close in his Con- fessions and in his letters to Saint-Lambert to admitting that this was what he was about. *I protest, he wrote in the Confessions, 1 swear that if, some times carried away by my senses, I attempted to make her unfaithful, never did I truly desire it. And in a letter to Saint-Lambert, he wrote, I deprecate your connection . . . but a love such as yours merits some consideration, and the good it produces renders it less culpable. 5 Indeed, Saint-Lambert s princi pal uneasiness regarding the attentions Rousseau was paying to Mme d Hou detot seems to have arisen from just this apprehension that the citizen would undermine her attachment for Saint-Lambert by playing upon her scruples: I reserve, however, your promise which you give me of never speaking to her against our connection. . . . 6 And Saint-Lambert might well think that there was ground for worry when he read Rousseau s reply, in which the citizen remarked that I told her that her attachment for you was henceforth a virtue ! 7 When some time later the exasperated Diderot was drawing up a list of Rousseau s malfeasances Citizen Rousseau committed seven ras calities simultaneously, which have alienated all his friends one of the rascalities was listed as follows: *M. Rousseau then fell in love with Madame


~*A DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

294

d Houdetot; and to prosper his affair, what did he do? He sowed scruples in the mind o this lady regarding her passion for M. de Saint-Lambert, his friend. * Authorities are in pretty general agreement that here Diderot de scribed the situation as it truly was. 9

When this nightmare of tangled personalities began, Diderot s relationship to it was extremely peripheral. At this time in his life he had not even met Mme d Houdetot, he had just barely made the acquaintance of Mme d Epinay and was reluctant to know her better, and he rarely saw Rousseau, who was at the Hermitage, or Grimm and Saint-Lambert, who were on active duty in the field. Although a whole book about this quarrel has been written on the assumption that Diderot was in a plot against Rousseau and pursued him step by step, the record seems to show more casualness than calculation. It is nearer the truth to think of a bumbling Diderot than a conspiratorial Diderot, of the nonchalant Diderot who antagonized his friends by not writing an expected letter or by absent-mindedly failing an appointment, of the naive Diderot who was maddening in proffering unsolicited advice and ingenuous in the admiration of his own virtue.

In the history of the friendship of Diderot and Rousseau, the year 1757 had begun with bickerings about Mme Levasseur and about the offensive remark made by Diderot in Le Fils natural Diderot, who had been promis ing for a long time to go to the Hermitage, finally arrived there in early April, and a very satisfactory reconciliation seems to have taken place. 10 Then, in July, Rousseau stayed two nights at the Rue Taranne. The initia tive for this meeting was evidently Rousseau s, his object apparently being to make sure that Diderot would at last be brought to giving his opinion and suggestions concerning the manuscript of La Nouvelle Helo ise* In his Con fessions Rousseau says that he had sent Diderot the first two parts of the novel about six months previously, but that Diderot had not yet read them. Besides this, Rousseau claims to have had the generous motive of desiring to help Diderot, the latter being involved just at this time in the crisis regarding the plagiarism of Goldoni, and to signify to the world by this visit that the two men had not quarreled. 11 In the anti-Rousseau camp the tradition re garding this visit was that Rousseau kept Diderot slaving at the revision un til all hours, then discreditably refused to listen to something of Diderot s when the latter wanted Rousseau s advice in return. 12

Years afterward, in recollections clustering around these events, Diderot and his friends asserted that he visited the Hermitage and Montmorency very frequently during all the time that Rousseau was resident there. Thus Mme de Vandeul wrote that all the time that he stayed at Montmorency,


I USED TO HAVE AN ARISTARCHUS . . . 295

my father had the constancy to go there on foot once or twice a week to dine with him. 13 Marmontel quotes a similar declaration by Diderot:

  • . . . and I [he says Diderot declared] going on foot two or three times a week

from Paris to his hermitage/ 14 Moreover, Morellet claimed in his Memoires to have participated in these expeditions himself. Often we went, Diderot and I, from Paris to his hermitage near Montmorency to pass whole days with him. There, under the great chestnut trees adjacent to his little house, I have heard long extracts from his Helo ise, which enraptured me as much as they did Diderot. . . . 15

The testimonies of Mme de Vandeul, Marmontel, and Morellet were written down many years after the events they purport to describe. Mme de Vandeul s and MarmontePs remarks indicate that their sole authority was the assertions made by Diderot. Morellet, on the other hand, claims to have been an eyewitness. Yet his testimony is very hard to reconcile with the tone of the letters that Rousseau was writing, not years later in his Confessions, but at the very time of these alleged events. These show that all through 1757 Rousseau was greatly distressed that Diderot came so seldom to the Hermitage. Indeed, Rousseau s letters allow us to trace only four times, and no more than four times for certain, when Diderot and Rousseau saw each other face to face in the year 1757. Perhaps the frequent visits Morellet spoke of occurred in 1756, but the difficulty regarding this possibility is that Rousseau could not then have read to them his Nouvelle Heloise because he did not begin to write it before early 1757, when his relations with Diderot were already extremely strained. To speak bluntly, Morellet s story does not hold water.

Regarding the four meetings between Rousseau and Diderot in 1757, we have already spoken of three. These were: the occasion in January when Rousseau went to Paris to be at the bedside of Gauffecourt; the one in April, when a reconciliation occurred at the Hermitage; and that in July, when Rousseau spent several nights at the Rue Tarannc. The fourth meeting the last in their lives was at the Hermitage in early December. Over and above these, there may have been and probably was a fifth occurring early in September at the Hermitage. If it did occur, it was because Rousseau was in urgent need of advice, his relations with Mme d Epinay, Mme d Houdetot, and Saint-Lambert having suddenly become extremely vexed and compli cated as a result of the agitation caused by the day of the five notes* (probably 31 August). According to Diderot s Catalogue of the Seven Rascalities, Rousseau accused Mme d Epinay of either informing M. de Saint-Lambert or having him informed of his passion for Mme d Houdetot. Embarrassed by his conduct with Mme d Houdetot, he called me to the Hermitage in


2g g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

order to learn what to do. I counseled him to write M. de Saint-Lambert everything, and to keep away from Mme d Houdetot. This advice pleased him, and he promised me that he would follow it. 16 Although many authorities make no allowance for this September interview, the fact that Rousseau did write a long letter to Saint-Lambert on 4 September makes it seem very possible that the letter was written pursuant to Diderot s advice. 17 Diderot further declared, in his enumeration of the seven rascalities, that Later I saw him again. He told me that he had done it and thanked me for the advice. . . . 18 Rousseau s letter of 4 September is the only one that fills these specifications. But it is much less candid than Diderot claims to have advised.

If Jean-Jacques was driven to distraction by his love affair, it is well to re member that Diderot, too, had recently become involved in one of his own. And during September and October of 1757, when his wife and little Angelique were at Langres on a three-month visit, he had three or four bouts of fever, which debilitated him precisely at the time when Rousseau s relations with Grimm were being stretched to the breaking point. Grimm returned from campaigning and was with Mme d Epinay through those months. Being jealous of Rousseau s ascendancy over Mme d Epinay, Grimm treated Jean-Jacques very haughtily, with that calculated hardness that was an unpleasant part of his character. The incidents in this process of disattach- ment may be followed at length in Book IX of Rousseau s Confessions. 19 At the same time the decision was shaping up that Mme d Epinay, whose health had been poor for some time, should travel to Geneva to be under the care of Dr. Tronchin. She herself did not put much emphasis into her proposal that Rousseau, who knew Geneva well, should accompany her thither. But Diderot did, in a letter written about mid-October which threw Rousseau into a tantrum. *I learn that Mme d Epinay is going to Geneva, but I do not hear it said that you will accompany her. . . . Overburdened as you are with the weight of the obligations you owe her, here is an occasion for paying her back in part and for relieving yourself/ Then, after discounting in advance Rousseau s protestations of ill health, Diderot continued: Moreover, aren t you afraid that your conduct will be misinterpreted? You will be suspected of ingratitude or of some other secret motive. I know very well, whatever you do, that you will have in your behalf the testimony of your conscience; but does this testimony suffice by itself? And is it permissible to neglect the conscience of other men up to a certain point? ... I salute you, love you, and embrace you. 20


  • I USED TO HAVE AN ARISTARCHUS . . . 297

The enraged Rousseau at once accused Diderot of a plot. 21 Once Rous seau s suspicions were aroused, his lively imagination always carried him very far. Sometimes he realized this himself. For instance, he once took it into his head that his publisher, being delayed in sending him the proofs for Emilc, was betraying him by giving the manuscript to the Jesuits. When Malesherbes wrote to soothe him, Rousseau remorsefully replied, Oh! Monsieur, I have done an abominable thing. . . . Nothing has changed since the day before yesterday, yet everything now takes on in my sight a different complexion, and where I thought I saw the clearest proofs I now see only some very ambiguous indications. Oh! how cruel it is for a sick and melancholy man, living alone, to have an unregulated imagination and to be informed of noth ing concerning himself. 22

In scarcely any circumstances could Rousseau endure being told what to do. Moreover, if two of his friends were in agreement as to any course he should pursue, he promptly concluded that a conspiracy was afoot against him. And to allege that he had obligations to some person drove him quite frantic. Much can be said in justification of this sturdy love of independence, although it can scarcely be denied that Rousseau put himself into an ambigu ous light, to say the least, by accepting the occupancy of the Hermitage. Rousseau s awkward position is by no means an unusual one. Multitudinous are the men of letters and the artists of every generation whom ambitious hostesses and lionizing friends have sought to put under obligations by the very extent of their generosity. Perhaps the only defense against this con stricting menace of being loved into sterility is to adopt the practice of ac cepting favors without incurring a sense of obligation for them. Rousseau made the mistake, however, as did James I and Charles I, at odds with their parliaments, of argiiing about it. His long letter to Grimm, dated 19 Octo ber, in which he referred to his two years of slavery at the Hermitage, gave Diderot ample reason for asserting that Rousseau Vrote against Mme d Epinay a letter that is a prodigy of ingratitude. 23

So Rousseau did not offer to accompany Mme d Epinay to Geneva and Diderot wrote this down as one of the seven rascalities. Among Rousseau s secret and unacknowledged reasons for not desiring to be seen with Mme d Epinay at Geneva was his suspicion that her motive for going was that she was with child by Grimm and that she intended to have the child in secret there. Actually this was not the case Mme d Epinay had some sort of bona fide abdominal ailment but inasmuch as she had previously had an illegitimate child by M. de Francueil, a circumstance of which Rousseau


2 g8 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

might quite well have been aware, his suspicions, though he could scarcely acknowledge them in writing and though they happened to be unfounded, were nevertheless not preposterous. 24

Mme d Epinay left for Geneva on 30 October, and a few days later Grimm wrote Rousseau, castigating him for his horrible apology and his mon strous system. ... I shall never in my life see you again, and I shall deem myself fortunate if I can banish from my mind the recollection of your be havior >25

In view of the situation, Rousseau began to feel that he should leave the Hermitage. Mme d Houdetot counseled against it, fearing that such a move, occurring just at the onset of the worst season of the year when most peo ple avoided the unpleasantness of moving, would cause a great deal of gossip and perhaps make Rousseau s passion for her common knowledge. Thinking that Diderot would advise the same thing, she wrote to him, although they were not yet personally acquainted, offering to take him to the Hermitage and to be present at the interview. Diderot replied that if she was present he would find it impossible to speak frankly: 1 am of an ex treme timidity, he wrote. And in a second letter he promised to go to the Hermitage on his own initiative as soon as he could. 26 Whether because of timidity or from fear of further complications, it is quite clear that he had no desire to become acquainted with Mme d Houdetot, and this feeling lasted at least into January, for Mme d Houdetot wrote Rousseau that she happened to meet Diderot at Baron d Holbach s 1 was wearing panniers and had my diamonds on and he fled from me. 27 Diderot wrote to Rousseau about mid-November, and did advise him not to leave. In the course of the letter he denied the existence of the plot that Rousseau was so sure his friends had organized. 28

Early in December Diderot at last found the time to go to the Hermitage. Although Diderot says in his Catalogue of the Seven Rascalities that he went to the Hermitage to demand of Rousseau why he had not confessed to Saint-Lambert as he had told Diderot he had done, the tone and sequence of Rousseau s Confessions and of his correspondence at this period do not confirm this at all. In fact, the Saint-Lambert affair did not come to its climax until several months later. On the contrary, the conversation during the December meeting seems to have concerned itself with the Mme d Epinay-Grimm crisis, with Rousseau s unsuccessfully trying to get old Mme Levasseur to confirm that Mme d Epinay had attempted to suborn her and Therese. No doubt there was a good deal of discussion as to whether Rousseau should leave the Hermitage, now that midwinter was coming on,


  • I USED TO HAVE AN ARISTARCHUS . . . 299

and Rousseau further claims that this was the occasion when he learned what was for him the very upsetting intelligence that D Alembert, in his article on Geneva/ was undertaking to tell the citizens of Jean-Jacques s native city what they should do. 28

One can well imagine that such an interview, between persons so articu late, demonstrative, and emotional, was very much like a scene from one of Diderot s dramas. Tempestuous as it must have been, it nevertheless was far from ending in a break. It was in fact the last time that the two men met, but this was not their expectation at the time. The proof lies in the fact that a few days later Mme d Houdetot wrote to Rousseau proposing that instead of his moving to Montmorency from the Hermitage, he should go to live with Diderot for the winter. Rousseau s reply, while deeming the project unfeasible, shows that he did not suppose that he would be unwel come. Do you know my situation well enough? he asked. e Do you know his, the temper of his wife, to be sure that that is practicable ... ? 30

Rousseau moved from the Hermitage into the town of Montmorency on 15 December 1757. In February he wrote to Diderot what appears to have been a friendly letter urging him to give up the Encyclopedic if D Alembert did, for this was just at the height of the turmoil caused by the article on Geneva. He did not even deign to answer me, wrote Rousseau to Mme d Houdetot, and thus he leaves in adversity the friend who so eagerly shared his [at Vincennes]. That is all that is necessary on his part. This abandonment tells me more than all the rest. I cannot cease to love him, but I will never see him again in my life. 31 Yet Diderot was really not un mindful of Rousseau s situation, for Deleyre, a friend they had in common, wrote on 28 February, He [Diderot] is as uneasy as I regarding the resources that remain to you for subsisting. He fears lest you be in need at the present moment. 32 This month and even early in March, Deleyre as well as Mme d Houdetot herself were writing to Rousseau of the likelihood of Diderot s paying a visit to Montmorency. 33 Then, on 2 March, Rousseau wrote a let ter, apparently never answered it was not just Voltaire who could not extract replies from Diderot in which he stated that he had heard that Diderot was blackening his character and imputing horrible things to him. I must, my dear Diderot, write you once more in my life. . . * I am a bad man, am I? he asked, and then he wrote, clearly alluding to Grimm, I should like you to reflect a little about yourself. You trust your natural goodness. . . . What a fate for the best of men to be misled by his own candor and to become, in the hands of bad persons, the innocent instrument of their perfidy. I know that self-esteem is revolted by this idea, but it merits


20Q DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

the examination of reason. . . . You could have been seduced and misled. . . . Diderot, think about this. I shall not speak to you about it again. 34

And now for the catastrophe. Saint-Lambert, having been invalided at Aix-ia-Chapelle for several months, returned to Paris in March I758. 35 He seems to have learned quite quickly that Rousseau s attentions to Mme d Houdetot had been altogether more determined and passionate than he had ever supposed or had ever been led to believe. This being true, Rous seau s letter of 4 September took on an altogether different aspect. Although at the time he had answered it in friendly fashion, it now seemed to him to be a hypocritical document. 36 As Diderot said of Rousseau in his Cata logue of the Seven Rascalities, he wrote an atrocious letter, of which M. de Saint-Lambert remarked that one could reply to it only with a stick. 37 Following upon this unpleasant discovery, Saint-Lambert used his influence with Mme d Houdetot to cause her to break off all relations with Rousseau, which she did in a letter of 6 May, complaining that these rumors have come to my lover for some little time. . . . [because of] your indiscretion and that of your friends. 38 For Rousseau this was a thunderclap. Feeling certain that it was Diderot who had informed Saint-Lambert and that he had perfidiously divulged confidential information, Rousseau not long after gave public notice that the friendship between him and Diderot was ended.

Was there, really, any perfidy involved? Ah! don t we all wish that we knew. Nor perhaps shall we ever, for the motivations are probably as deeply concealed and the points of view as various as those portrayed in The Ring and the Boo\. Diderot stoutly asserted that there was no perfidy. After Saint-Lambert s return from the army, Diderot wrote in his Catalogue of the Seven Rascalities: He came to see me. Persuaded that Rousseau had written to him along the lines we had agreed upon, I spoke to him [Saint- Lambert] regarding this adventure as of an episode that he must know about better than L Not at all, for it turned out that he knew things only by halves and that, by Rousseau s falseness, I fell into an indiscretion. 39

Had Diderot desired to be perfidious, this was the precise point where double-dealing would be most effective and least detectable, Diderot liked to suggest, in defense of his innocence, that proof of Rousseau s badness was that he had lost all his friends. Our friends that we had in common have judged between him and me. I have kept them all, and none of them re mains his, Diderot wrote to a Swiss pastor early in I759- 40 The statement is not quite true, for Deleyre, the minor Encyclopedist who had written the article Tin and who for a time in 1756 and 1757 was editor of the Journal Etranger, remained friendly to both. But even so, one must acknowledge the


  • I USED TO HAVE AN ARISTARCHUS . . .* 301

possibility that the defection of Rousseau s friends is not of itself proof of his being in the wrong. It might have resulted from unscrupulous manipu lation of the evidence.

An attempt to determine the merits and motives in this tortuous story of six lives is of intrinsic interest as a study in human nature. Furthermore, it throws light on the personalities and characters of persons who are im portant in the intellectual history of the Western world. It reveals Diderot as much as Rousseau, each claiming to be justified, each standing on the threshold of crisis. The enemies of both used the quarrel as evidence to the discredit of each. And the break between Diderot and Rousseau came just at the time of, indeed was a part of, the more important crisis in the fate of the Encyclopedic. Here Diderot walked in peril, walked almost alone. It was the greatest test he had been called upon to undergo the greatest in his life. To survive it required resources of stoicism, self-confidence, en durance, and conviction that make him one of the heroes, or if it be thought that his sense of self -righteousness is too great to allow him heroic stature one of the near-heroes, as he was certainly one of the seminal figures, in the history of thought. The mind therefore returns again and again to the problem of the sincerity and honesty of the man who was presently to undergo such a searching test of his stamina and nerve. Was Diderot as virtuous as he thought he was?

Probably not. It is vouchsafed to few men to be that virtuous. But in his behalf it may safely be said that to establish that he was perfidious in his relations with Rousseau, one would need to prove a degree of forethought, of calculation, and of ruthlessness that, although they may have existed in this instance, are most contrary to the usual tenor of his ways. Through all the months of this crisis, Diderot had no consistent policy regarding Rousseau. Of course it is true that during this crucial time Diderot was in daily asso ciation with Grimm, the man who had become Rousseau s bitterest enemy, and it is altogether probable that by the attrition of constant innuendoes Grimm was able to wear away a great deal of Diderot s lingering sympathy for Rousseau. But this does not seem to have resulted in any calculated policy on Diderot s part. His attitude remained passive, not active. What he did seems to have been the result of sudden impulse. His was the attitude and conduct of a man who, as Voltaire said of him at just this moment, found it harder to write a letter than a book. 41 Moreover, the tension with Rousseau was by no means the only preoccupation of these anxious times. It is hard to believe, with so much going on, with trying to finish Lc Pere de jamille and edit the eighth volume of the Encyclopedic and contend with


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

a reinvigorated censorship and parry the attacks of pamphleteers and deal with Voltaire and persuade D Alembert to stay with the Encyclopedic, that he could think of the Rousseau problem by much more than fits or starts, or spend his time in contriving a plot against his former friend.

Besides, Diderot probably did not lie when he stated in his Catalogue of the Seven Rascalities, a list that was drawn up not later than 1760, and as serted at about the same time to Marmontel that Rousseau had asked for advice about Saint-Lambert and had promised to follow it. 42 Even this can not be established beyond a doubt, and of course it is always possible that Diderot, without in any way being involved in calculated perfidy against Rousseau, did thoughtlessly blurt out to Saint-Lambert confidential infor mation that ought to have been withheld, a lapse that he thereupon under took to justify instead of frankly acknowledging. Nevertheless the fact that Rousseau did write to Saint-Lambert the long letter on 4 September re garding Mme d Houdetot suggests that Rousseau had accepted Diderot s advice and that Diderot could assume that Saint-Lambert was fully in formed. If this be so, then Rousseau really misled Diderot about what he had said in that letter, thus being the real cause of Diderot s inadvertently committing an indiscretion. And then, to Diderot s indignation, Rousseau, the cause of this false step, turned on Diderot and by a public break exacted double indemnity for the offense. As Professor Torrey remarks, Diderot felt taken in.* 3 One can sense Diderot s exasperation and feeling of outrage in the very language and style of the Catalogue of the Seven Rascalities, It breathes the sense of injury of a man who honestly feels much put upon, rather than the factitious indignation of a conspirator simulating wrath. 44

Following the interview with Saint-Lambert in which, according to his own account, Diderot was inadvertently indiscreet, he did nothing. There was no more talk of his going to Montmorency, there were no letters ex changed, there were no upbraidings. It was Rousseau, not Diderot, who took the initiative in notifying the public that the friendship had come to an end. On 6 May, Mme d Houdetot broke off relations with Rousseau, and this was followed by Saint-Lambert s going to Montmorency a couple of times, as a result of which Rousseau decided that it was Diderot who had treacherously betrayed him. 45 Consequently, in the preface to his forthcom ing Letter to D Alembert, he gave public notice of the break: Taste, dis crimination, correctness, will not be found in this work. Living alone, I have been unable to show it to anyone. I used to have an Aristarchus, severe and judicious. I have him no longer, I wish to have him no longer; but I shall regret him ceaselessly, and he is missing a great deal more from my


l USED TO HAVE AN ARISTARCHUS . . . 303

heart than he is from my writings. To this was appended a footnote, a quo tation in Latin from the Book of Ecclesiasticus : Hast thou drawn sword against thy friend? Be comforted; all may be as it was. Hast thou assailed him with angry words? Thou mayst yet be reconciled. But the taunt, the contemptuous reproach, the secret betrayed, the covert attack, all these mean a friend lost. 46

When Deleyre, still friendly to both men, saw the celebrated footnote, he wrote to Rousseau, What a passage from Scripture you proceed to quote! You don t want friends any more, then, since you renounce the best one that by your own admission you ever had. 47 Marmontel s Memoirs reveal the way in which this footnote was regarded in the circle of Diderot s friends. Finding myself alone with Diderot for some minutes on one occasion, I expressed my indignation, apropos of the letter to D Alembert on plays, concerning the note that Rousseau had placed in the preface of this letter. It was like a stiletto thrust. . . . Everyone knew that it was Diderot to whom this infamous note was addressed, and many people thought that he must have deserved it since he did not refute it.

Diderot replied to Marmontel that he could not defend himself against Rousseau s imputations without involving others. It is cruel to be calumni ated, he said, and that basely and in the perfidious accents of friendship betrayed, and [it is cruel] not to be able to defend oneself. But such is my position. You shall see that my reputation is not the only one involved. Now, as long as one can defend one s honor only at the expense of some one else s, one must remain silent, and I do. 48

Saint-Lambert, like Deleyre and Marmontel, was strongly and unfavor ably impressed by the famous footnote. Rousseau had presented him with a copy of the Lettrc Z D Alembert, only to receive this reply: Truly, Mon sieur, I cannot accept the present you have just made me. At the place in your preface where, regarding Diderot, you quote a passage from Ecclesi- astes [Ecclesiasticus], the book fell from my hands. After the conversations of this summer, you appeared convinced that Diderot was innocent of the alleged indiscretions that you imputed to him. He may behave badly with you. That I would not know. But I do know that he does not give you the right to give him a public insult. You are not ignorant of the persecu tions he is undergoing, and yet you are going to add the voice of an old friend to the cries of envy. I am unable to conceal from you, Monsieur, how much this atrocity revolts me. I am not intimate with Diderot; but I honor him, and I feel keenly the sorrow you cause to a man whom, at least in my presence, you never reproached with anything but a little weakness "


49


- 04 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

Rousseau s preface was an attack masquerading as a defense, and con troversy has raged over the question of who did whom wrong, much as scholars winnow the evidence regarding a question of war guilt. Diderot was not only deeply upset by the footnote in the preface, but also by the tenor of the whole book. Rousseau, in taking issue with D Alembert as to the desirability of having a theater at Geneva, used arguments or illustra tions that Diderot regarded as slurs or attacks upon himself. Accordingly he burst forth in passionate resentment of what he conceived to be Rousseau s malfeasances: His note is a tissue of infamy. I have lived fifteen years with that man. Of all the marks o friendship that a man can receive, there is none he has not had from me, and he never gave me any in return. . . . this man is false, vain as Satan, ungrateful, cruel, hypocritical, and bad .... Truly this man is a monster. 50

For almost all the philosophes, and pre-eminently for Diderot, it was a very sore point to allege, as Rousseau had done in the Lettre & D Alembert, that it is impossible to be virtuous without first being religious, impossible to have probity without religion/ To the contrary, Diderot insisted that the two are entirely separable. He had found Lord Shaftesbury s ideas very attractive because die noble earl had made precisely this distinction, it being an important implication in the Inquiry concerning Virtue and Merit which Diderot had translated in 1745. A man could be virtuous, according to this view, without being inspired by the fear of hell Indeed, he could be more virtuous, because he was animated by a love of virtue for its own sake. It was this line of thought that involved Diderot in a great deal of moraliz ing, an activity that he confessed he greatly enjoyed. Everyone has his idiosyncrasy, he wrote about 1773-4, and mine is to moralize. 51 Diderot wanted to prove that philosophes were better men than Christians were. He wanted to believe that he himself was a more virtuous man than his brother, for example, who was a priest. Consequently he scarcely ever tired of talking about virtue.

This sort of compulsion is well illustrated at this very time by Diderot s long response to a pastor in Geneva, probably Rousseau s friend, Vernes. Apparently Diderot was replying not only to words of praise but also to some tactfully phrased inquiries regarding the merits of the break with Rousseau. Probably Vernes was trying to discover whether there was any possibility of reconciliation. At all events, Diderot launched into a discus sion of morality. It is not Diderot at his best. It is wordy and a little illog ical. Moreover, the ideas in it give rise to the uneasy feeling that they were designed more to match the receiver s cloth than the sender s deepest be-


C I USED TO HAVE AN ARISTARCHUS . . . OQC

liefs. But there the letter is, in the Bibliotheque Publique et Universitaire of Geneva, with Diderot s signature upon it, testifying to what he said were the views he held regarding virtue. Diderot referred to himself as a man esteeming virtue to such a point that I would gladly give what I possess in exchange for having been up to the present moment as innocent as I was when I was born, or in exchange for coming to the end forgetful of the errors I have committed but conscious of not having increased the number of them! The more one scrutinizes the latter half of this statement the more oracular and turgid it seems to become. Diderot continued by remark ing that Virtue is, then, the greatest wealth of him who enjoys life and the most substantial consolation of him who is about to die. There is nothing in the world, accordingly, to which virtue is not preferable; and if it does not appear to us to be so, that is because we are corrupted and not enough of it is left to us to make us aware of all its value. Then, passing to Rous seau, Diderot wrote, It is an atrocious action to accuse publicly an old friend, even when he is guilty. But what name can be given to the action if it happens that the friend be innocent? And what name, furthermore, should be given if the accuser avows to himself at the bottom of his heart the innocence of him whom he dares to accuse? And then Diderot made it clear that he was seeking no reconciliation: Tor twenty years he has taught me how to pardon private slights, but this one is public, and I do not know any remedy for it. 52

Diderot might have been more forgiving had not the Lettre & TyAlembert been published at a time peculiarly unpropitious for him and for the Ency clopedic. Rousseau s Lettre, having received from Malesherbes a tacit appro bation, was on sale in Paris by 28 September I758. 53 It was not simply that this blast against the social utility of plays appeared less than a month before Le Pre de jamille, which, with its accompanying treatise on dramatic aes thetics, was intended to herald a new day in the theater. Scarcely anything could be better calculated to blunt the impact of the play or make Diderot s remarks about the drama, intended to seem self-evident, highly controverti- ble. This seemed grievous enough to Diderot, as his remarks in his Catalogue of the Seven Rascalities show. But more than that, the public character of the quarrel was very injurious to the pkilosophes, whether they deserved it or not. Up until this moment the public had thought of Rousseau as one of the Encyclopedists. He had been their leader in the controversy over Italian music, he had written the articles on music in the Encyclopedic, he had been the author of the important article on Political Economy, and Diderot had apostrophized him by name in the article Encyclopedia. 54 Oh! Rousseau,


^og DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

my dear and worthy friend/ Diderot had written for everyone to read in 1755; and now the dear and worthy friend was advertising to the wide world that Diderot was unworthy of further friendship because of the covert attack and because of the secret betrayed.

What Rousseau probably did not realize, but what Diderot and his friends, living in the hurly-burly of Paris could not forget, is that this quarrel by becoming public took on political significance. Rousseau s action, or, at least, Diderot s interpretation of it, can be thoroughly understood only in terms of its political context. Rousseau s Letter to D Alembert appeared in the course of, and greatly complicated, a prolonged crisis during which Diderot s for tunes seemed to proceed with inexorable step from portent to paroxysm to catastrophe. The writings about the Cacouacs were the portent, the conse quences of the publication in July 1758 of Helvetius unlucky book DC I Esprit was the paroxysm, the suppression of the Encyclopedic in March 1759 was the catastrophe. In the whole eighteenth century this was the time of die crucial struggle to gain for one side or the other the support of public opinion. Eventually the Encyclopedic rose from its ashes. Eventually it be came manifest that the Encyclopedists had won public opinion to their side just when the course of events would seem to indicate the contrary. But the years of 1757, 1758, and 1759 were grim and anxious for Diderot, years in which public anxieties were compounded with private distress. And it was hard for him to forget that precisely at the time when his Encyclopedic was most beset by his enemies, precisely at a time when he most needed to prove that a philosophc was an upright man and pure in heart, Rousseau gratu itously informed the public that his old friend was a scoundrel.

Inevitably, therefore, Rousseau s public denunciation, whether he realized it or not, assumed political significance. In consequence, the quarrel became a matter of consuming interest both to the friends and foes of the new philosophy. Everyone talked about it. To do so was more than a frivolity fit to fill up an idle moment. The implications of the quarrel were really of substantial interest to all. That an incident in the private lives of two middle- class writers could absorb the interest of the aristocratic society of the ancien regime to such a degree is a symbol of the revolution occurring in the French outlook. The Marquis de Castries, a nobleman destined to be a marshal of France, impatiently remarked one day when the quarrel of Diderot and Rousseau had become public knowledge, It s incredible. People don t talk of anything but of those fellows. Persons without an establishment, who don t have a house, who are lodged in a garret. One just can t get used to all that. 55


CHAPTER 23


Signs and Portents of Approaching Eclipse


T^V ALEMBERT S decision in January 1758 to forsake .Lx the Encyclopedic, which he announced as being resolute and which on the contrary was succeeded by over a year of wavering and irresolution, ushered in a period of protracted crisis and confusion. Deleyre wrote to Rousseau on 25 January, during a spell of very cold weather, that There is the Encyclopedic spiked. It is no longer going, any more than the water mills have been running these past few days/ * The Journal Encyclopedique for i February mentioned that Vexations of all kinds have finally obliged M. d Alembert to give up the work absolutely and irrevo cably/ 2 Indeed, the publishers themselves announced to the public in an eight-page pamphlet that the work had been brought to a standstill. This communication, printed in Le Breton s shop and carrying the self-explanatory tide of Memoir of the Publishers Associated in the Encyclopedic regarding the Reasons for the Present Suspension of this Work/ must have been issued early in the year, for it was quoted lengthily in the Mercure dc France in April. A goodly portion of this pamphlet was devoted to wheedling D Alembert to return and, to judge from Diderot s informing Voltaire in June that D Alembert had consented to continue with the mathematical part of the work, it apparently wheedled with a measure of success. 3 As late as 26 February, D Alembert had written to Voltaire, I persist in the resolution not to work any more on the Encyclopedic ; yet presently he is to be found doing the opposite of what he had previously announced and adopting a policy diametrically the contrary of what Voltaire had been counseling. 4 The fact is that D Alembert vacillated a good deal, much to the confusion of biographers, many of whom, putting his desertion in 1759 instead of 1758, seem to be unaware of how protracted and muddled the editorial crisis was,

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with D Alembcrt loudly announcing that he was quitting, then half-return ing, then quitting again, and even so late as February and April of 1759 still considering staying on.

The publishers appeal to D Alembert galled Diderot very much. We have the proof of this in a letter that he wrote about a year later to Sophie Volland. By this time D Alembert, who now had given up even the mathematical part of the Encyclopedic, saw Diderot for the first time in several months and rather lamely proposed being put onto the pay roll again. The fact was that he was hard up. He lived off pensions, though very modest ones, from the Prussian and French governments, and these were not being paid because of the fiscal stringencies induced by the Seven Years War. The occasion gave Diderot an opportunity to read D Alembert quite a lecture. When D Alem- bert declared that if he came back, he would write no more prefaces, Diderot replied, You might wish to write some in the course of time, and you wouldn t be free to.

And why not?

Because your previous ones have brought down upon us all the animosities with which we are now laden. Who is there who was not insulted in them?

Alluding to the publishers public declaration in the pamphlet of the year before, Diderot said, Nevertheless you quit an enterprise into which they have put all their fortunes. An affair of two millions is a bagatelle not worthy of the attention of a philosopher like you. You entice away their contributors, you throw them into a complication of difficulties from which they will not soon extricate themselves. 5 All that you see is the slight satisfac tion of getting yourself talked about for a moment. They are under the necessity of addressing the public. You should see how they have regard for you and sacrifice me! 6

In addition to causing him to tighten up the censorship of the Encyclopedic, D Alembert s article on Geneva prompted Malesherbes to re-examine the whole problem of the relation of the Encyclopedic to the government. The autograph draft of his memorandum, dated about April 1758 and now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, reveals a startling suggestion. In this letter sent to Bernis, who was then a member of the Royal Council and soon to become France s minister for foreign affairs, Malesherbes recommended a policy of complete autonomy and self-responsibility for the Encyclopedic. His letter is equally revelatory in the information it gives regarding Diderot s status in the eyes of the authorities: *As for M. Diderot, he has made some mistakes and he has been severely punished for them, but are these transgressions irrep arable? The disgraces he has already met with and the disfavor that he is


SIGNS AND PORTENTS OF APPROACHING ECLIPSE 309

still experiencing, since entry into the academies is forbidden to him for the present moment, are they not sufficient? 7

Bernis reply was affable but noncommittal, and it is not known whether Malesherbes carried his project any further, or whether Diderot realized that the academies were closed to him. 8 When this decision, so adverse to Diderot, was made is not known, but it is clear that not only the French Academy but also the Academy of Sciences were closed to him, and it may perhaps be true that the provincial academies, which at that time were flour ishing everywhere in France, were aware of the official disapprobation of Diderot. This might explain why Diderot was never a member of an academy in France, no matter how provincial and obscure.

D Alembert s decision in early 1758 to retire as an editor of the Encyclo- pedie evidently brought about a new contract between Diderot and the pub lishers, to judge by one of Diderot s rare letters to Voltaire. Even the latter, who had called Diderot cowardly for wanting to continue the venture, had changed his mind by June 1758, and had inquired whether Diderot would like him to contribute any more articles.

Do I want your articles, Monsieur and dear master? [wrote Diderot on June 14]. Can there be any doubt about that? Shouldn t one make the trip to Geneva and beg them from you on one s knees, if they could be obtained at no other price? Choose, write, send, send often. I was not able to accept your offers sooner. My arrangement with the publishers is scarcely settled. We have made a fine contract together, like that of the devil and the peasant in La Fontaine. The leaves are for me, the grain is for them. But at least these leaves will be assured me. 9

During the early summer of 1758 the preparations for publishing the eighth volume of the Encyclopedic were resumed. But the work was badly crippled by D Alembert s retirement, to judge from the statement of the publishers years later that his quitting was the reason for not publishing a volume in I758. 10 This time Grimm helped with the reading of proof, Diderot busied himself with his ordinary editorial tasks and with the prep arations for the publication of his play, Le Pere de jamillc, while the storm brought on by Rousseau s reference to the Book of Ecclesiasticus had not yet broken. 11 But whatever serenity Diderot may have been enjoying in the summer of 1758 was shattered in a twinkling by the publication in late July of the book by Helvetius, De I Esprit ( Concerning the Mind ). This treatise, which in spite of its name dealt more with the springs of ethical action than it did with psychology, had at first seemed so harmless that an official censor had approved it and it was published with tacit permission. All the evidence


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

points to the fact that Helvetius himself did not dream that his book would be controversial, which seems to prove that he did not have a very lively sense of the grand strategy of politics, for De fEsprit put into grave jeopardy the cause it intended to serve. The orthodox regarded the book as the most shocking and outrageous that the century had yet seen in print, and they contended, moreover, that it was completely representative of the point of view of the philosophcs. Especially was this asserted of Diderot and the Encyclopedic. The two works were sedulously intertwined by the critics of both, although Helvetius never contributed any articles to the Encyclopedic, Nevertheless the latter was made to share by association in the general repro bation. In consequence, Diderot found himself living in an atmosphere of mounting tension and suspense. And before long, crisis was succeeded by disaster.

DC I Esprit seems rather commonplace to a twentieth-century reader and reminiscent of that deathless line in the American theater, What s all the shootin fer? For Helvetius was simply attempting to found a science of morality on a basis of behaviorism without the use of transcendental sanc tions. As he remarked in his preface, 1 have felt that morality should be treated like all the other sciences, and that one should make an ethics as one makes an experimental physics. His doctrine now seems very much over simplified, but certainly familiar, indeed almost platitudinous. In fact, he was a predecessor of Jeremy Bentham and the utilitarian ethics based upon the pleasure-pain calculus. 12 A twentieth-century student of ethics is likely to take the basic assumptions of Helvetius regarding the moral nature of man as true as far as they go, but stated in a simplistic and rather perverse fashion.

At the time of its publication, however, the orthodox, the conservative, and the conventional were profoundly shocked by the doctrines of Helvetius because he made his system of morality quite independent of the will of God or the behests of religion. There were no other-worldly sanctions. Egotism, so to speak, was to be its own reward. For Helvetius dressed up his ethics in the paradox of an exaggerated egotism, claiming that man was virtuous, when and if he was, only because in that fashion he best satisfied the de mands of his own ego. The famous Mme du Deffand remarked of the book that it upset everyone so much because Helvetius had revealed what was everyone s secret.

Nor did Helvetius confine himself to views regarding psychology and ethics. He unburdened himself of a variety of obiter dicta, particularly in his footnotes, which were as inflammatory as they were extraneous. He dis-


SIGNS AND PORTENTS OF APPROACHING ECLIPSE 31 1

approved of the burdensome forced labor on the highways, he declared that savages were happier than the French peasantry, he attacked the Catholic priesthood as not being attached to the general interest/ he wondered whether the Catholic practice of getting rid of daughters by forcing them to take the veil was not more barbarous than the infant exposure of the Chinese, he inveighed against luxury, he insisted (thinking of the belief in miracles) that evidence must be statistical and based on the calculation of probabili ties/ he praised Julian the Apostate, he very clearly implied that there was no real metaphysical difference between men and animals, and he delivered himself of such humanitarian generalizations as not a hogshead of sugar arrives in Europe undyed by human blood. 13

Helvetius 1 book is by no means an unalloyed delight to read, even for those who enjoy collecting antiques. It tiresomely reflects his egotism and humorlessness. The view of human motivation is very narrow. Conduct is motivated almost exclusively by self-esteem, the thirst for fame, and the desire for women, thus mirroring its author more than man. 14 De I Esprit is diffuse. It is repetitious. It shifts ground confusingly by taking advantage of the extraordinary semantic complexities of the word esprit! Some of the time the book is talking about mind, some of the time about wit, and some of the time in special senses of the word peculiar to Helvetius, as when he makes esprit equivalent to taste* and to expertness. Although metaphors and similes are profuse, the effect is surprisingly uninteresting because his imagery is commonplace and unimaginative and his presentation pedestrian and dull. Diderot remarked of the book that A paradoxical author ought never to state his conclusion but always his proofs. He should enter into the mind of his reader slyly, and not by force. ... If all that the author wrote had been heaped up pell-mell, so that there had been only in the mind of the author an unacknowledged principle of arrangement, his book would have been infinitely more agreeable and, without appearing so, infinitely more dangerous/ 15

De I Esprit was published on 27 July 1758. On 10 August the Council of State revoked the license for its publication, and this was followed in turn by fulminations from the Archbishop of Paris (22 November) and Pope Clement XIII (31 January 1759) , ie The unfortunate censor of the book, one of the chief clerks in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a man named Tercicr, lost his job for having passed the manuscript, and Helvetius himself was deprived of the honorific position he had held of maitre d hotel of the Queen of France. 17 He also had to make a series of solemn retractions. 18 Beyond this, upsetting enough for many men but apparently not very distressing to


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

Helvetius, nothing much happened to him. As the clearheaded Turgot remarked, what Helvetius had done was the most suitable for drawing down upon him the notoriety of being persecuted, which does not do much harm to a rich man, and to make the real weight of it fall upon a large number

of honest men of letters who get the lash that Helvetius deserved 19

Precisely the same point was made by Grimm, who was particularly alarmed because of Diderot s association with Helvetius in the public mind. Philoso phy will feel the effects for a long time of the upheaval of opinion that this author caused almost universally by his book. ... In order to ruin M. Diderot, it has been spread about everywhere that he was the author of all the passages in the book of M. Helvetius that revolted people, although this philosopher has no connection with the latter, and although they do not meet twice a year/ And indeed it is almost certain that Diderot, in spite of what his friend Meister later asserted, had nothing to do with the writing of Helvetius* famous book. 20

The accusation that the Encyclopedists found most damaging was the allegation that they were closely united in a conscious conspiracy against government and religion. This was very frequently alleged, at no time more crushingly than when the Attorney General of France solemnly declared in 1759 before the highest court in the land that It is with grief that we are forced to say it, [but] can one conceal from oneself that there is a project formed, a Society organized, to propagate materialism, to destroy Religion, to inspire a spirit o independence, and to nourish the corruption of morals? 1 2I This was but to repeat and summarize the allegations of Palissot in his Little Letters on Great Philosophers; 22 of Moreau in his description of the Cacouacs; of an Abraham de Chaumeix, whose multi-volumed Legiti mate Prejudices against the Encyclopedic, together with an Essay in Refuta tion of this Dictionary began to appear in October 1758; of an abbe calling himself De Saint-Cyr in his Catechism and Determination of Cases of Con science, for the Use of Cacouacs/ 23 This allegation of conspiracy became one of the standard myths of the party opposed to the philosophes, as may be seen in the Abbe de Barruel s Memoires pour sermr h I histoire du Jaco binisms (1797-8) . 24 And it was an allegation that the philosophes always in sisted, and rightly insisted, was not so. Grimm denied it, D Alembert denied it, although he evidently decided that it was imprudent to publish the manu script in which the disclaimer was contained. 25 Even the publishers of the Encyclopedic denied it. In their 1758 pamphlet explaining the reasons for the suspension of work on the Encyclopedic, they wrote that It is the strictest truth [to say] that for the twelve years and more since the Encyclopedic was


SIGNS AND PORTENTS OF APPROACHING ECLIPSE 313

begun, those who co-operate in it have not assembled together one single time. Most of them do not know one another. Each one works individually on the topic that he has adopted, then he sends his work to one of the Editors, without being in communication with the Authors of the other parts/ 26 That it seemed necessary to make so categorical a statement gives some indi cation of how damaging the constant asseveration of conspiracy must have been. Yet it must be confessed that the Encyclopedic invited such suspicions, for it claimed on the title page of each successive volume to have been written by a society of men of letters. 27

In this atmosphere of increasing tension and foreboding crisis, Diderot put the final touches on his play, Le Pere de jamille. It had been a long time in the writing. He had announced to the public in the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel that Le Pere de famille was being planned. This announcement ap peared early in February IJ5J. 2S But Deleyre s letters to Rousseau show that Diderot was hard at work on Le Pere de jamille over a year later. 29 Indeed, the play with its accompanying Discourse on Dramatic Poetry was not actually published until around the beginning of November I758. 30 One of the reasons for the long delay was the fact that for a while Diderot gave it up in disgust. This is revealed in a letter written on 29 November 1757 to a fellow playwright, Antoine Le Bret, who was worried because of rumors that the plot of his forthcoming play, Le Faux Genereux, was similar to Diderot s. In a hand that showed haste and was, in comparison with the firm yet delicate writing customary to him, comparatively illegible, Diderot wrote that the plot of his play, of which Le Bret had evidently been previously informed, remained unchanged. The first [play] involved me in so many vexations that I have been on the point twenty times of abandoning the second and throwing into the fire what I have done. My friends have pre vented me. I have taken it up again. I have worked at it a little, but so little that it is scarcely worth mentioning. I do not foresee that it can be printed for two months; the printing will take up another one. 31 Le Bret s play had its premiere on 18 January 1758, but ten months passed before Diderot s play was published.

Diderot dedicated his play to an Exalted Personage, a Sovereign. Not a very important sovereign, it is true, but still a sovereign. This was not his usual way of doing things. Perhaps he did so because he felt his position weakened and needed to boast the support of an august name. Perhaps it was no more than the influence upon him of Grimm, a man who, as some one has remarked, by dint of great efforts finally promoted himself from the rank of foremost critic in Europe to that of third-rate diplomat. Diderot s


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS


letter was addressed to Her Serene Highness the Princess of Nassau-Saar- brack, and concerned the problem of how to educate her children * Diderot did not meet the Princess until 1765** He submitted his dedication to her through the good offices of Grimm sometime before mid-June 1758, and apparently without having previously broached the subject. The lady ac cepted gratefully after all, she was not a very great sovereign in a some what tremulous shimmer of graceful eighteenth-century rhetoric. 33

Diderot s dedicatory letter is mainly an exhortation to virtue, and has about it the sooty smell of an academic showpiece, even though Voltaire said he regarded it as a masterpiece of eloquence. 34 Yet Diderot could not touch a subject without leaving the imprint of his personality. It is interesting to see that he does not truckle or fawn. Indeed, putting into the mouth of the Princess the sentiments that he holds and that he professes to believe that she, too, holds, he says, I desire that they [the Princess* children] see poverty, in order that they be sensitive to it and in order that they know from their own experience that they are surrounded by men like themselves, perhaps more essential than they themselves, who scarcely have straw to lie on and who have no bread/ In view of the fact that Rousseau thought that man was good in the state of nature, it is of importance in understanding Diderot s outlook upon politics that in this letter he spoke critically of man in the state of nature, calling him imbecile and savage. Moreover, he declared that men would have no need of being governed if they were not bad. Remember, Diderot thinks the Princess should tell her children, power does not give peace of mind, and labor does not take it away. . . . Virtue is the only habit that you can contract without fear of the future. Sooner or later all the others become importunate. 35

The manuscript draft of the dedicatory epistle contained a passage that the Princess particularly and urgently desired suppressed. It is easy to see why. For Diderot had put into her mouth the following words, addressed to her children: 1 shall take very good care not to speak ill of sensual pleasure and not to decry its allure. Its purpose is too august and too universal. I shall speak to you about it as if nature herself were listening. Wouldn t she have the right to reply to whoever should speak ill of sensual delight, "Be silent, foolish one! Do you think that your father would have concerned himself with your birth, that your mother would have risked her life to give you yours, were it not for the unutterable charm that I have linked to their cm- braces? It was pleasure that brought you forth out of nothing." * Even for the eighteenth century, this was a little strong. 36

  • There is an English translation, Concerning the Education of a Prince, cd. John M. S. Allison

(New Haven, 1941).


SIGNS AND PORTENTS OF APPROACHING ECLIPSE 315

In October o 1758 the Pere de famille was in the process of being printed and Diderot was extremely impatient to get it off the press. Dr. Lavirotte, Regent o the Faculty of Medicine and a friend of Diderot as well as the author of the article Docteur en Medecine in the Encyclopedic, was the censor assigned by Malesherbes. 37 I wanted to send both one and the other [the play and the supplementary "Discourse on Dramatic Poetry"] to M. de Malesherbes/ Lavirotte reported, but M. Diderot hurried me so much and is so impatient to see his work printed that he carried it away right out of hand. 38 Malesherbes evidently informed Lavirotte that some changes would have to be made in both the play and its accompanying essay before they would be allowed to appear. Somewhat plaintively he wrote to the censor that apparently Diderot could not write even an essay on dramatics without mentioning government and religion in two or three places. 39 Nor did Lavirotte think it would be easy to persuade Diderot to make changes: 1 merely wish to beg you to observe that no one will have enough authority over the mind of M. Diderot to persuade him regarding these suppressions and alterations. He will resign himself to them only as a result of the most categorical orders. 40

Diderot did make some changes, though very reluctantly. Here are the cartons [substitute pages, to be tipped into volumes already printed and bound] that you have required. The things that have offended you have been suppressed and those that appeared harsh to you, softened/ 41 But Diderot tried to save from the blue pencil a passage occurring in the second act, where the Father of the Family recalls the prayer he prayed when his son was born. Malesherbes objected to Diderot s reference to God, on the grounds that people would regard it as hypocritical. How can you make out that I shall be accused of hypocrisy? I am no more the Father of the Family than I am the Commander; and if one has me in mind when reading me, then the piece must be poor indeed. * 2 Apparently Diderot was able to per suade Malesherbes to let the passage stand. It reads as follows: My son, it will soon be twenty years since I bathed you with the first tears you caused me to shed. My heart leaped up as I saw in you a friend given me by nature. I received you into my arms from the bosom of your mother, and, raising you toward Heaven and mingling my voice with your cries, I said to God, "O God! who have granted me this child, if I fail in the cares You have laid upon me this day, or if he is not destined to respond to them, have no regard for the gladness of his mother, but take him back." 4S

The altercation regarding the prayer caused in Diderot a considerable effusion of temperament. I saw the man last evening at the Marquis de Croismare s, wrote Lavirotte to Malesherbes, probably about 19 October.


g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

<He was in such a violent fit of despair that we feared lest he throw himself out of the window/ 44 And Diderot s letter to Malesherbes, dated 20 October, bears the marks of strong emotion:

This prayer rings true. It is simple. It is moving. It is well placed. This is the opinion of M. de Saint Lambert. It is that of M. d Argental The latter was moved by it and the former told me that one does not conceive of such effects unless one has genius. I admit, Monsieur, that friendship for me has made them excessive in their praise. But I have tested this passage on other persons. My wife is a good woman who lacks neither common sense nor taste, and it has given her pleas


ure.


deign to consider my situation. Observe that for ten years, for thirty, I drink bitterness in a cup never empty. You do not know, Monsieur, how un fortunate my life has been. I have suffered, I think, all that it pleases destiny to make us suffer, and I was born with a sensitivity out of the ordinary. The present misfortune brings to mind misfortune in the past. One s heart swells. One s char acter grows embittered, and one says and does foolish things. If that has happened to me, I ask a thousand pardons. 48

As Diderot was finishing his letter, his publisher brought news that Males- herbes was assigning a new censor to the job. This was even worse, wrote Diderot, for the new man would inevitably demand new changes, which meant new cartons, all at Diderot s expense. Monsieur, have the goodness to revoke an order injurious to a censor whom you esteem and which will be ruinous for me. ... Monsieur, do not ruin me ... do not destroy me.* 4e Nevertheless, Malesherbes sent the book not to one new censor but to two. 41 Censors, however, were becoming exceedingly shy, very conscious of the calamities overtaking the unfortunate censor of the book by Helvetius, on the one hand, or the sort of browbeating they were likely to get from the philosophes, on the other. One of the censors appointed by Malesherbes begged off for the first reason. 48 The second censor, a man named Bonamy, wrote on 29 October, I shall inform the publisher that I have had the honor of sending the work back to you, as being beyond my strength and my enlightenment to pass judgment on, which I confess to being true. But as I ask only for peace and comfort, and as I do not wish to have a quarrel with people who imagine themselves the sole possessors of all human reason, I dare to flatter myself that you will keep the word that you had the kindness to give me that you would not compromise me with them, for I am apprehen sive of them as much as I am of the theologians. 4S Apparently, after all this turmoil, Malesherbes was fain to let Lc Pere de famille be published without further change. In spite of the censorship Diderot had had his own way.


SIGNS AND PORTENTS OF APPROACHING ECLIPSE 317

Not long after this display of temperament, Diderot had another adventure with the office of the director of publications. This was a real mystery story, and still remains so to a large degree the Affair of the Dedications. Males- herbes referred to it as the most annoying and displeasing of his whole administration, and clearly the culprit would have been severely punished had Malesherbes been sure who was guilty of the hoax. 50 The facts are these: There had been timed to appear just after the publication of Lc Pert de famille two of Goldoni s plays, anonymously translated by two of Dide rot s friends. // Vero Amico t the play that it was alleged Diderot had plagiar ized, was translated by Forbonnais, the man who had contributed to the Encyclopedic the admired articles on business and commercial transactions. // Padre di famiglia was translated by Deleyre, the young journalist who in this same year had tried so hard to reconcile Diderot and Rousseau. These translations usually bound together in one volume, if they can be found at all, so rare have they become bear up creditably in a collation with the original. They are faithful and idiomatic. Nothing in the originals is sup pressed, although not infrequently lines are added, especially to serve as transitions between scenes. No effort at all, however, was made to tamper with // Vero Amico in any way favorable to Diderot. As for II Padre di famiglia, it is so far removed in everything but name from Le Pere de famille that there could be no question of borrowing.

These plays, when they were published, purported to be printed at Avignon and to be on sale at Liege at Etienne Bleichnarr s. There was no Etienne Bleichnarr. The name means in German pale fool, of which the equivalent in French is pale sot Thus the word Bleichnarr* turned out to be simply a pun on the name of Palissot, the bitter enemy of the Encyclopedists and the author of Little Letters on Great Philosophers! In addition, each play carried as epigraph a long and puzzling Latin quotation and a dedication, one to the Comtesse de * * * and the other to the Princesse de ***** * 5 in flowery, insinuating, ambiguous, and probably insulting language. 51 Almost as soon as the plays were published, complaints were lodged with Malesherbes by two ladies of high position who happened to be well known as enemies of the philosophes. The Comtesse de La Marck, who by birth was a Noailles, claimed to be the person designated by the dedication in Le Veritable Ami; the Princesse de Robecq (who was the daughter of the Marshal of Luxem bourg and had recently been the mistress of the Duke of Choiseul) by the dedication of the translation of // Padre di famiglia.

In the code of eighteenth-century French manners, unfavorable personal allusions in the press or on the stage were regarded as a grave affront, no


^jg DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

matter how veiled or slight. This was one of the indirect consequences of censorship. For everyone supposed that such attacks, if allowed publication, were tacitly approved by the government. Consequently all such situations became a matter of face. Someone lost it, and a struggle would develop to see which party enjoyed the greater public credit in the effort to get it back. This was the reason why D Alembert consistently showed himself very touchy about allusions in the press that one is tempted to think it would have been wiser to ignore. And in this instance, in conformity with this social code, Malesherbes took a grim view of the incident of the dedications and started a determined investigation to discover who had written them and was responsible for their publication.

Malesherbes quickly satisfied himself of the innocence of the translators, Forbonnais and Deleyre. The trail next led to Diderot, who had had the manuscripts of the translations for some days, but who insisted that there were no dedications either when they came into his hands or when they left them. 52 The Comtesse de La Marck had supposed Diderot to be the guilty one D Hemery noted in his journal that she was in a frightful rage against Diderot. 53 Diderot called upon her, and managed somehow to placate her. Perhaps it was that gifted tongue of his. Probably, though, it required something more substantial, for according to Palissot s account of the matter to Voltaire, Mme de La Marck secured a signed confession from Diderot. 54 Then Mme de La Marck, in a letter to Malesherbes quite charm ing in its phonetic orthography, so revelatory of the well-bred illiteracy of the upper classes, informed him that she was satisfied and that Mme de Robecq and she desired him to carry the matter no further. 55

Malesherbes reply pointed out that a legal offense had been committed, as well as some moral ones: a premeditated attempt had been made to deceive him, the responsible magistrate, and to make innocent persons, namely Deleyre and Forbonnais, seem guilty. So, Madame, I beg of you to have these authors [of the dedications] informed, since they have made them selves known to you, that all they have to do is to make their confession likewise to me, and I promise you that they shall suffer from me nothing more than the disesteem that their manner of acting necessarily brings in its train/ But if they did not confess to him, he would put the affair into the hands of the Lieutenant-General of Police. 50

At this juncture Forbonnais wrote Malesherbes insisting that someone must make public and explicit acknowledgment of personal responsibility for the translations in their entirety. Otherwise, he wrote, he and Deleyre would be unjustly suspected of being responsible for the dedications. If this


SIGNS AND PORTENTS OF APPROACHING ECLIPSE 319

was not done, he and Deleyre would resort to the law, and the affair would become a public scandal 57 Forbonnais went on to say that witnesses had seen a lackey in Grimm s service leaving a copy of the published translations at the door of Forbonnais* lodgings.

The protest from Forbonnais caused Malesherbes to write to the Comtesse de La Marck again. It is you, Madame, who brought M. Diderot to his senses, first out of fear and then out of admiration and gratitude for the nobility of your way of acting. Malesherbes explained the difficulty with Forbonnais, and strongly implied that the Comtesse was the only person in a position to assure that Forbonnais be satisfied. 58 Evidently Malesherbes was hinting that she should persuade Diderot to take the public responsibility. At all events, this is what Diderot did, whether Mme de La Marck persuaded him or Forbonnais did. It was the latter who forwarded to Malesherbes the copy of a letter that Forbonnais had drafted and Diderot had signed. 59 And in due time there appeared in the November issue of the Observateur Lit- teraire and the December issue of the Mercure de France the following notice:

Ill-informed persons, Monsieur, having spread about that the published trans lation of Le Pere de jamille of Goldoni was done by M. Deleyre and that of Lc Veritable Ami by M. de Forbonnais, the knowledge that I have of these two plays obliges me to declare that [the translations] just published arc very different, and it is established that neither the one nor the other had a part in the printing and publication of these works.

I have the honor, etc., Paris, 21 November 1758 Diderot *

It will be noticed that Diderot, although he absolves Deleyre and Forbon nais, does not hint as to who was guilty. The hostile Palissot assured Voltaire that it was Diderot himself, but Voltaire replied that he could not believe it. 61 Grimm, commenting on Voltaire s letter, told his correspondents that D Argental, investigating the matter for Voltaire, had been informed by Mme de La Marck that she had had the signed confession in her hand, that she had immediately burned it, and that the secret of who it was would die with her. 62 Certainly the affair had an air of mystery about it to the end. Malesherbes wrote to the Lieutenant-General of Police over a year later, This affair remains unpunished for lack of proof, and added that the guilty parties were under strong suspicion but yet were not known with certainty. 63

In fact, however, Grimm was the guilty one. The German pun on the name of Palissot, the lackey delivering a copy of the translations at Forbonnais


2 20 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

lodgings, pointed toward him. And A. A. Barbier, an early nineteenth-century literary antiquarian, asserted that Grimm was the author, that Diderot took the guilt upon himself, that the offended ladies soon learned that this was what Diderot had done, and that the affair had had no other consequences. 64 But all this remained a little conjectural until the recent discovery and pub lication of a letter from Diderot to Grimm written over twenty years after the incident had occurred. Diderot s letter permits no doubt that Grimm was the real author of the dedications. 65

Why, then, did Diderot take the guilt upon himself? It is possible that this was a really heroic decision. Yet, in what was obviously an extremely com plex situation, one can only speculate as to what were his motives. Perhaps one of his reasons was that his friend Grimm was a foreigner and might have had extremely harsh treatment meted out to him, such as deportation, which in Grimm s case would have been calamitous both professionally and per sonally. We should like to suppose that Diderot s conduct was simply the result of courageous generosity, but in view of the innumerable and varied pressures that must have been playing upon him in this emergency, it is impossible to say with assurance just why he acted the way he did.

Still another question must be asked, a very grave one indeed. How guilty was Diderot, from the point of view of the probity he was always talking about? Unknowingly involved in this intrigue were two men whom Diderot knew to be innocent, two men who thought of themselves as Diderot s friends. Did Diderot connive at attempting to make them seem responsible for having written the dedications? Even though he was protecting his friend Grimm, Diderot incurred some moral guilt in this respect, because it is a matter of record that only under pressure did he exculpate Forbonnais and Deleyre. It may have been, therefore, to this incident that Deleyre was referring when in a letter to Rousseau he spoke of having discovered a knave among the philosophers and of having been made his dupe. 66 Diderot s con duct certainly seems to have been ambiguous perhaps it was laudable, per haps it was culpable. Perhaps for he was a man given to subtle rationaliza tions when cases of conscience were involved he here revealed that his early moral training had been in the hands of the Jesuits, men who had long been accused of flagrant sophistry in such matters. 67 Diderot often showed in his writings and letters his awareness of life s real and constant ambiguities, ambiguities of conduct as well as ambiguities of thought. In fact, he wrote his liveliest play upon this very theme. In this piece the hero, Hardouin, is a picture of Diderot as Diderot conceived of himself, an affable and obliging man who, from the best of motives, involves himself in the most dubious


SIGNS AND PORTENTS OF APPROACHING ECLIPSE 321

and ambiguous conduct. In the final scene the question is asked that gives the name to the play: Is he good? Is he bad? And Diderot-Hardouin replies, Alternately.* Similarly, one can ask the same question regarding the part Diderot played in the affair of the dedications: Est-il bon? Est-il mechant? Perhaps the answer is the same.


CHAPTER 24

Le Pere de Famille and the Discourse on Dramatic Poetry


E-CE his Fils naturelj Diderot s Pere de jamille did not immediately receive the honors o a produc tion at the Comedie-Franjaise. This had to wait until 1761, but meanwhile the play quickly became a widely read and influential book. Between 1758 and 1800 there were thirty-two editions of it published in French; ten in German; three in English, plus a play by Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne more strongly influenced by Diderot than the General wished to acknowledge; three in Dutch; two each in Russian, Danish, Polish, and Italian; and one in Spanish. 1 Many of these editions, especially the ones in French, also con tained the accompanying Discourse on Dramatic Poetry/ so that Diderot s ideas on the theater, expressed in this book as well as in the preceding Entretiens sur le Fils naturel, may safely be said to have reached a wide audience.

To ancien regime society it seemed self-evident that one of the principal preoccupations of a father was to secure suitable matrimonial arrangements for his children, and the two main pivots in this new play, as Diderot him self pointed out, were to be the establishment in marriage of the Father of the Family s two children. 2 Diderot had already stated, in his Entretiens sur le Fils naturel, his conviction that the theater should concern itself with the points of view and behaviorisms of people s professional and family relation ships the judge, the businessman, the man of letters, the father of a family. The father of a family! What a subject! he cried. 3 Le Pere de famille, there fore, was a play in which parental prudence came into violent conflict with the impetuosity of a young lover. Its plot greatly resembled the real-life circumstances of Diderot s courtship of Anne-Toinette Champion, even to the use of a lettre de cachet. Interesting as such a play was to the eighteenth-

332


LE PERE DE FAMILLE AND THE DISCOURSE ON DRAMATIC POETRY* 323

century public, it is even more interesting to a person studying Diderot s life, for it is evident that the Father of the Family is Diderot s own; that Saint- Albin, the spirited young lover, is Diderot s recollection of himself; that the peevish and hateful Commander, the brother-in-law of the Father of the Family and therefore the uncle of Saint-Albin and Cecile, is Diderot s con ception of the character of his younger brother, the Abbe; 4 that Cecile, the daughter of the family, a composite of loftiness of character, vivacity, re serve, and sensitivity,* is Diderot s idea of the character of his sister; 5 and that the heroine (whose name is Sophie and not Anne-Toinette) is probably Diderot s picture of what he supposed Sophie Volland to have been like when she was young. 6 Certainly the characterization of the part suggests that Diderot had Sophie Volland rather than his wife in mind when he wrote it. If so, Diderot consciously or unconsciously gave Mme Diderot the slight of transferring his mistress character and his mistress name to a role that his wife had played with him in real life. It is not very surprising that Mme Diderot did not go to see the play until its revival in 1769, nor did she go very eagerly even then, to her husband s annoyance. 7

Still another interesting aspect of this play about family life is that no living mother nor wife figures in it. The Father of the Family is a widower. Now and again Diderot s characters refer with affection to the mother, but her absence is by no means essential to the plot. Therefore it is evident that Diderot felt unwilling or unable to deal adequately with this character in his play. Surely a psychiatrist could speculate very interestingly upon the biographical significance of Diderot s leaving the mother out of a play, the whole concern of which is with family relationships. 8

The action takes place within the duration of twenty-four hours in the house of M. d Orbesson, the Father of the Family. Saint-Albin, the son, has taken of late to staying out at night, and the family is revealed, as the curtain goes up, awaiting his return. After these characters have got the play started, they retire for the night, leaving the Father of the Family alone. Saint-Albin presently enters, dressed as an artisan, and explains that he has fallen in love with a virtuous young woman who supposes him to be a workingman. Sophie, temporarily stranded in Paris, is attempting to earn enough money by spinning to enable her to return home. Entreated by Saint-Albin, the Father of the Family consents to see her.

The Father finds the young lady attractive, but not of a sufficient fortune or social standing to be suitable for his son. He therefore offers to provide for her return if she will give up Saint-Albin. A very stormy scene ensues between the son and the father (who ends by pronouncing his malediction),


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 3 2 4

and between the son and the uncle. The son resolves to kidnap his beloved, while the disapproving old Commander decides to secure a lettre de cachet that will get her out of the way. Many alarms and excursions follow, through the rest of the five acts, and the reader is likely to agree more than once with Freron, who wrote that At every instant one feels the quandary he [Diderot] is in to stretch his play out. He imitates those unscrupulous manu facturers who pull their cloth violently in order to give it greater length at the expense of its quality. 9 The play might even yet be unsatisfactorily re solved had it not turned out, by the greatest of coincidences, that the Com mander is also Sophie s uncle! This revelation, a deus ex machina almost identical with the one in Le Fils naturel, establishes the fact that Sophie is of good family obviously! for she is her lover s first cousin so that all ends happily, save that the gruff and cantankerous Commander remains un yielding, unrepentant, and in character to the very end.

In accordance with the principles of playwriting that Diderot had already enunciated in his Entretiens sur le Fils naturel, Le Pere de jamille contained elaborate tableaux, quite in the fashion of Greuze, such as the scene at the beginning of the second act that portrays the Father of the Family s philan thropy, and the scene ending the play. Also included in the script were detailed descriptions of scene decoration and indications of stage business, and the speeches of the actors were often written in disjointed prose and unfinished sentences in order to indicate the use of gestures or the effect of strong passions. Frequently these speeches have a telling effect. Saint- Albin, especially, speaks the authentic language of an impulsive and mer curial young man overwhelmingly in love. Moreover, he speaks the lan guage of a man who is purified by the experience. This accent upon the virtuousness of romantic love, preceding Rousseau s Nouvelle Helo ise by two years, represented something new and compelling in the French theater and shows that a subtle change was at work in the mores of the age. 10 You don t know what I owe to Sophie, you don t know. . . . She has changed me, I am no longer what I was. . . . And when the worldly Commander asks Saint-Albin what he thinks he is going to live on, the latter replies with bright confidence, as though it were all the wealth of the Indies, 1 have fifteen hundred livres a year!* 11 The eighteenth century liked that.

Like Lucifer in Paradise Lost, the most absorbing character in the whole play is one who was scarcely meant to be so. This is the Commander, and it is a good touch to leave him to the very end unconciliatory and unreconciled. The Father of the Family, on the other hand, does not fill the role intended for him. He is too passive. He follows the action instead of dominating it.


LE PERE DE PAMILLE AND THE DISCOURSE ON DRAMATIC POETRY* 325

Although Le Pere de famille was a quite interesting play regarding a com plicated tale of love, it was far from demonstrating what Diderot thought it demonstrated: the peculiar point of view of paternal relationship. To show that, he would have had to make his father of the family a much more positive and dynamic character, and much more in conflict with himself. 12

Diderot was, however, proud of his plot, and declared that he had written it straight through, the first scene first and the last scene last. 13 While he was constructing it, he wrote to an acquaintance who had hinted that the plan of the work could be recontrived if necessary, This plot is sewn in such a manner, this framework is assembled in such a fashion, that I would not be able to rip a stitch or misplace a peg without the whole thing s collaps ing/ 14 The complications in the play are symbolized by the fact that the synopsis of it in a standard contemporary dictionary of the theater ran to three tightly packed pages. 15 But in spite of its involutions, Diderot was in genuously pleased with his plot he admired it through several pages of his accompanying Discourse on Dramatic Poetry especially because he regarded it as psychologically sound and as having the proper sort of in evitability and inexorability about it. 16 Not every critic has agreed with him. 17

By a passing allusion to an incident in which Saint-Albin had figured during the siege of Port Mahon, Diderot increased the feeling of contempo raneity in Le Pere de famille. This made his references to such matters as convents and lettres de cachet all the more topical and daring. When Cecilc declares her intention of entering a convent, the Father of the Family refuses to allow her to descend into a living tomb : Nature, by according you social qualities, did not destine you to uselessness. Even more bold was Diderot s making the lettre de cachet the villain of the piece. Perhaps he remembered the villainous role a lettre de cachet had played in his own courtship. At all events, this instrument of the king s will was not used in Diderot s play, as it had been in Moliere s Tartuffe, to make the play come out happily; to the contrary, it was only by 7202 using the lettre de cachet that a happy denouement was reached. To imply that an exercise of the king s will would be equivalent to calamity was daring indeed. Moreover, Diderot insinuated that lettres de cachet were purchasable, and for reasons of private vengeance. For he has the Commander say of Cecile s maid, a person whom the Com mander heartily dislikes, But I have overlooked one thing. The name of this Clairet would have done very well on my lettre de cachet, and it wouldn t have cost any more. 18 Could Dickens be more pointed? When the play was finally produced, these lines were not spoken. The censor Bonamy had re marked to Malesherbes that it was none of Diderot s business either to praise


g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

or to blame lettres de cachet Nevertheless the book was printed as Diderot had written it.

Diderot presented Voltaire with a copy of Le Fils naturel and, a year later, of Le Pere de famille. In each case Voltaire was plainly embarrassed as to how to reply. The tactics he used in acknowledging the first evidently seemed to him successful enough to bear a second trial, for the letter of thanks for the second was extremely like its elder sister. Voltaire s formula was a simple one. It consisted of praising the author rather than the author s play. The work you sent me, Monsieur, he wrote in regard to Le Fils naturel resem bles its author; it appears to me to be full of virtues, sensitivity, and philoso phy. Like you, I think that there is much to be reformed in the theater at Paris. ... I exhort you to diffuse in the Encyclopedic, as much as you are able, the noble freedom of your soul/ 20 Acknowledging in its turn Le Pere de famille, Voltaire wrote that it contained tender and virtuous things, in a new style, as with everything you write. Then he hurriedly changed the subject to the Encyclopedic. Tou deserved to be better seconded,* he wrote, which was a very significant thing to say only six months after D Alembert s desertion. 21 That Voltaire had no high opinion of Le Pere de famille, how ever, is proved by his letter to Mme du Deffand regarding it. Have you had Le Pere de famille read to you? Isn t it ludicrous? In faith, our century is a poor one compared to that of Louis XIV. 22

It might seem odd, since Le Pere de famille was written in prose, that Diderot should entitle the little book accompanying it a Discourse on Dramatic Poetry/ He used the word poesie, however, in the figurative sense of signifying all that is lofty and touching in a work of art. 23 In his several chapters Diderot dealt with such subjects as plot, dialogue, incident, the dif ferent kinds of plays, characterization, division of a play into acts and scenes, stage decoration, costumes, pantomime and gestures, and, most important of all, the social function of the theater. In illustrating his points he exhibited a broad command of classic and modern authors. Of course he had much to say about Corneille, Racine, Moliere, and Voltaire, and he punctuated his discourse with allusions to Boileau, Fenelon, La Rochefoucauld, the Abbe Prevost, Buffon, and even, in spite of the censor s warning, to Helvetius. 24 He also referred to Aristotle, Plato, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, Aristoph anes, Plautus, Anacreon, Catullus, Lucretius, Horace, Shakespeare, George Lillo (author of The London Merchant, or The History of George Barn- wclT), and Samuel Richardson of current Pamela-Clarissa fame. The author whom he relied upon most, however, as providing models for his own type of play, was Terence. 25 Diderot was again at pains to show that his drame was really as old as Terence and yet as new as Le Pere de famille.


LE PERE DE FAMILLE AND THE DISCOURSE ON DRAMATIC POETRY* 327

Diderot s proposals for reform in the theater were inspired by his out spoken conviction that almost everything about current play production rang false. In reply to some criticisms o his Discourse on Dramatic Poetry that a well-known actress and novelist of the day, Mme Riccoboni, had sent to him,^ Diderot remarked, Indeed, my friend, I have not been to the theater ten times in fifteen years. The falseness of everything done there is unendur able to me/ 26

Diderot had a point. Much in the acting and play production of the day was needlessly conventional and artificial. There was more emphasis upon declaiming than upon acting. Diderot accused the actors of his day of acting with the face only, not with the whole body, and cited Garrick as the example they should emulate. 27 To correct the mannerisms of actors, Diderot favored rehearsals in an arena before a critical audience, a suggestion which entitles him, some people think, to be considered as the inventor of theater-in-the- round. Then, too, actors dressed magnificently and irrelevantly, with no regard to the nature of their parts. 28 Diderot believed in a greater co-ordina tion of the various theatrical arts than was customary. For example, he emphasized scenic effects, to be achieved in part by the skillful grouping and teamwork of the players; he called these effects tableaux, having in mind what a modern director would probably call dynamics. 29 Furthermore, he in sisted that the painting of stage scenery required a greater rigor and fidelity to truth than any other kind of painting. 30 All this implied, as a great student of French literature has remarked, the complete reformation of theatrical production. Every improvement in the art of production for the past 150 years has sprung from Diderot, and the innovators of today still take their rise from him, even when they deny it. 31

When Diderot wrote, the performances of the Comedie-Franfaise were still much impaired by the presence of spectators on the stage itself. Even the best actors were hampered by this practice, for scarcely anything could be conceived more apt to destroy the illusion of the theater. The custom was a source of income to the company of the Comedie-Francaise, however, al though everyone suffered from having to make entrances and exits while dodging around some count or marquis engaged in his own distracting con versation. Diderot remarked in his letter to Mme Riccoboni that no one should be allowed on the stage: then improvements could be brought about at once in scene decoration. 32 As it happened, this particular reform, which marked the end of an epoch in the French theater, was about to be accom plished. Thanks to a substantial endowment given by a Comte de Lauraguais, the company of the Comedie-Francaise agreed thenceforth to forego the revenue accruing from selling places on the stage. Dating from the Easter


~ 2 g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

vacation of 1759, spectators were banished from the stage of the Comedie- Frangaise. 33

The Discourse on Dramatic Poetry was a flavorsome essay because Diderot injected a great deal of his own personality into it.* For example, not only was the whole work dedicated To my friend, Monsieur Grimm/ but Diderot also wrote in the body of the work, One should always have virtue and virtuous people in mind when one writes. It is you, my friend, whom I in voke when I take up my pen; it is you whom I have before my eyes when I do anything. It is Sophie whom I desire to please. If you have smiled upon me, if she has shed a tear, if both of you love me more than ever, I am recompensed. 34 As one biographer of Diderot has remarked, it is only in the eighteenth century that a situation like this would be likely to occur: a married man s unmarried mistress and his friend, the bachelor lover of another man s wife, are invoked as the twin inspirations of a play, the purpose of which is to glorify the family. 35

Diderot was led into making the Discourse on Dramatic Poetry* a very personal book by the nature of his argument. Because I am what I am, he said in effect, I write the kind of plays that I do. Naturally, this line of thought made it necessary for him to tell the reader what sort of person he was, and one finds in the essay a number of pen portraits of the author as he seemed to himself. Now, of course, Diderot not only thought that he was as he described himself, but he also thought, quite obviously, that it would be well for others if they resembled him as much as possible. Doubtless this is a method of literary criticism that egotists find congenial and yet, when used by a great temperament of Diderot s range and depth, it cannot be con demned as simply fatuous. Diderot s views, subjective as they are, were extremely influential, and he has been called, quite rightly, not merely an author but a legislator. 36 To give some idea of how seriously Diderot s ideas were taken, it is apposite to recall that Lessing, the anonymous translator into German of Diderot s plays and dramatic essays (1760), declared in his intro duction that I might well say that no more philosophical mind than his has occupied itself with the theater since Aristotle. 37

Diderot conceived of himself as having an upright and straightforward character, perhaps a little simple but all the more respectable because of it. Born with a sensitive and upright disposition, I confess, my friend, that I have never been dismayed by any task from which I could hope to emerge

  • The first five sections of Diderot s Discourse, 1 out of a total of twenty-two, are published

ic English translation by John Gaywood Linn in Dramatic Essays of the Neo-Classic Age, eds. Henry Hitch Adams and Baxter Hathaway (New York, 1950), 349-60.


LE PERE DE FAMILLE AND THE DISCOURSE ON DRAMATIC POETRY 329

successfully through the use of reason and integrity. These are the weapons that my parents early taught me to manage: I have so often used them against others and against myself! 38

Although he spoke with gratification of his use of reason, he was equally proud of his ability to respond to situations emotionally. This was the sensi tivity, the sensibility, that he and most of his biographers have regarded as the central and most important characteristic of his personality. 39 This ex treme response to the emotional implications of a circumstance is not merely one of the most significant phenomena in the personality of Diderot. It is also one of the interesting crosscurrents in the Age of Reason, coloring much of the literature of the second half of the eighteenth century. 40 Diderot had always appreciated the role of emotions in psychological experience, and the first apothegm in his Pensees philosofhiques had burst out: People are for ever inveighing against the passions ... yet it is only the passions, and grand passions, that can lift the soul to great things. And when, in 1758, he analyzed his own personality, in reply to an assertion by Mme Riccoboni that he had a great deal of wit, he emphasized once again his sensibilite and surprisingly denied his wit: *I? One cannot have less. But I have something better: sim plicity; sincerity; warmth in the soul; a mind easily kindled; an inclination to be enthusiastic; a love for the good, the true, and the beautiful; a disposi tion ready to smile, to admire, to become indignant, to sympathize, to weep. Furthermore, I know how to be carried beyond myself, a talent without which one can do nothing worth while. 41

When he thought of himself as a philosopher, he liked to think he re sembled the ancients. This is apparent in his description of the philosopher, Aristes, who is obviously Diderot s conception of himself: *. . . almost the only thing that he lacked of an ancient philosopher was the mantle. 42 Particularly, he thought of himself as having a great deal of the massive simplicity, the ruggedness, and starkness of the ancients. Nature has given me, he wrote, a taste for simplicity, and I seek to perfect it by reading the classics. 43 Thus, by mentioning the ancients, he makes the transition from talking about simplicity in himself to talking about simplicity in plays.

This simplicity he finds in the manners and morals of the ancient peoples, against which he contrasts the conventionalities and fussiness of the manners (and the plays) of his day. Of course it is easy and true to say of his doc trine that his precepts were better than his example. The mountain labored and produced a melodrama. But his precepts were, nevertheless, very good. By his constant reference to the manners and to the drama of the ancients, Diderot hoped to reveal essential insights into the twin mysteries of artistic


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

creation and the aesthetic appreciation of it. For he accepted as self-evident that the elemental and unsophisticated folkways of the ancients, the simple and profound insights of the classic dramatists, could reveal the components of genius and clarify for moderns the proper criteria of taste. Much of Diderot s Discourse on Dramatic Poetry/ therefore, goes beyond mere problems of stagecraft to the deepest and most mysterious sources of creativ ity and the appreciation of creativity. One complements the other. The artist produces what the spectator appreciates. As Diderot formulated it, one facet of the problem was genius, the other was taste; one creation, the other appreciation.

As for genius, Diderot had a theory that it exists at all times, but the men who possess it remain torpid unless extraordinary events excite the mass and cause men of genius to appear. Then feelings accumulate in the breast, ferment there, and those who have a voice, feeling impelled, unleash it and feel relieved. . . , Poetry demands a certain something of the enormous, the barbarous, and the wild. . . . When will poets be born? After a period of disasters and great misfortunes, when the harassed peoples commence to breathe once more/ 44 Diderot s was a theory of art not unlike that of the Romantics; in particular, Victor Hugo. 46

The mystery of genius fascinated Diderot, and speculation about it often recurs in his writings. 46 But he was almost equally interested in discovering the proper criteria of taste. Both required the faculty of imagination, of that he was sure, for he wrote, Imagination! there s the quality without which one cannot be a poet or a philosopher or a man of reason or a man of wit or, simply, a man.* 47 In the search for the canons of good taste, Diderot felt and hoped that there is a discoverable standard, a rule anterior to every thing else. 4S In morals as in the arts/ he added, in his letter to Mme Ric- coboni, there is no good or bad as far as I am concerned save that which is good or bad at all times and everywhere. I desire that my morality and my taste be eternal. ... It is only the true that is of all times and places. 49

Diderot s mention of morals and arts in the same sentence emphasizes once again his utilitarian approach to problems of taste and artistic creation. In the last analysis Diderot found the supreme purpose of the playwright to consist of combining the moral and the aesthetic. In this view the theater becomes a kind of temple for a secular cult, wherein the good man is con firmed in his goodness and the bad man given pause. The pit of the theater is the only place in which the tears of the virtuous man mingle with those of the vicious one. There, the evil man becomes irritated against the very injustices he has himself committed, sympathizes with the misfortunes that


LE PERE DE FAMILLE AND THE DISCOURSE ON DRAMATIC POETRY* 331

he himself has caused, and grows indignant at a man of his own character. But the impression has been made; it lingers in us, in spite of ourselves; and the evil man leaves his box less disposed to do evil than if he had been scolded by a severe and harsh orator. 50

Such views are, of course, anathema to those aestheticians who analyze art simply in terms of itself, a process described, sometimes with unkind intent, as art for art s sake. They were also anathema to the orthodox Christians of Diderot s day, who were inclined to be scandalized, as was the censor of Lc Pere de famille, at the proposition that the stage could be a better vehicle for preaching than the pulpit. 51 Diderot s attitude can be ex plained in part by his opposition to Christian morality, in part by his con viction of the positive effect the drama had had in ancient times and the effect that it still might have in his own day.

Diderot expected great things from the theater, provided that it was or ganized in accordance with principles he deemed correct. Should this be done, the theater could offer, in morals as in the arts, standards that are eternal. Thus his Discourse on Dramatic Poetry, which might at first seem only about how to contrive a plot or decorate a scene, in reality em braced some of the greatest and the most abiding themes of the nature of genius and the criteria of taste; of the function of the artist; and, most of all, of the good, the beautiful, and the true. Nor was this all as if in a work on aesthetics this was not enough. For Diderot had, as usual, a passion for melioration. His desire for the improvement of conditions, combined with his faith in the useful and utilitarian, caused him to hope that the playwright could indeed be a sort of legislator/ a Lycurgus magnificently devoting his genius to the betterment of his fellow man. Oh! what good would redound to men, he wrote, if all the imitative arts would adopt a common purpose and one day would co-operate with the laws in making us love virtue and hate vice. Such an attitude explains why his book was important in the general ferment of eighteenth-century ideas, even though one may contend that it was often mistaken. Every people has prejudices to be destroyed, vices to be attacked, ridiculous customs to be decried, and every people has need of plays, but plays appropriate to it. What a means of preparing for the chang ing of a law or the abrogation of a custom, if the government knows how to use it! 52

Thus, at the end, Diderot arrived at the threshold of politics.


CHAPTER 25


The Death of the Phoenix


WHILE Diderot the playwright was enjoying in the winter of 1785-9 a very considerable suc cess, Diderot the Encyclopedist was faring badly. Crisis had become chronic in the affairs of the Encyclopedic. D Alembert s resignation had greatly re tarded the printing of Volume VIII just as the publication of DC I Esprit had created a feeling that the Encyclopedic was an incubator of subversion, spawning works like this of Helvetius which in their doctrinaire and in elastic psychology implied views about the nature of man and the universe profoundly inimical to established religion. Both externally and internally, therefore, the well-being of the Encyclopedic had become decidedly precarious and, as events were soon to show, the venture was in fact beginning to topple over into catastrophe.

Although the affairs of the Encyclopedic were consequently being carried on in an atmosphere of strain and crisis, it does not appear that Diderot labored under a sense of impending doom. The Encyclopedic advances, in the midst of all sorts and kinds of contradictions, wrote Grimm in his news letter for 15 December 1758, and Diderot himself wrote to Turgot in January, soliciting articles and announcing, with remarkable optimism, that a new volume was about to be published and that the Encyclopedic was being reborn. 1

In reality, the Encyclopedic was at that very moment in the gravest peril. Fate now began to rain hammer blows upon Diderot as though he were the protagonist overwhelmed, yet tenacious and enduring in some Greek tragedy. And perhaps it was with some consciousness of the Hellenic stark- ness and grimness of the struggle that he wrote some months later to Grimm, Tate, my friend, can change in a moment from good to ill, but not from ill to good; and mine is that of being tormented to the very end. He who de votes himself to letters sacrifices himself to the Eumenides. They will leave him only at the threshold of the tomb. 2

332


THE DEATH OF THE PHOENIX 333

One of the blackest days in the history of the Encyclopedic was 23 January 1759, only two days after Diderot s optimistic letter to Turgot. On that day the Attorney General, a man named Omer Joly de Fleury, harangued the united assembly of magistrates who made up the Parlement of Paris. The burden of his indictment was that the kingdom was being jeopardized by the poison of impious books, foremost among them the Encyclopedic. With the rhetoric, earnestness, and exaggeration customary in this sort of verbal exercise, the Attorney General declared that a conspiracy was afoot:

Society, Religion, and the State present themselves today at the tribunal of justice in order to submit their complaints. Their rights have been violated, their laws disregarded. Impiety walks with head held high. . . . Humanity shudders, the citizenry is alarmed. . . .

It is with grief that we are forced to say it: can one conceal from oneself that there is a project formed, a Society organized, to propagate materialism, to destroy Religion, to inspire a spirit of independence, and to nourish the corruption of morals? . . .

In the picture that we have just drawn of the principal maxims of this work [De l f Esprit] you are seeing in fact, Messieurs, simply the principles and detestable consequences of many other books published earlier, epecially the Encyclopedical Dictionary. The book De I Esprit is, as it were, the abridgment of this too-famous work, which according to its true purpose should have been the book of all knowl edge and has become instead the book of all error. . . . 3

Inasmuch as Helvetius had already made a solemn retraction, a fact which Joly de Fleury announced in his harangue, the weight of the Attorney General s attack obviously rested upon the Encyclopedic. In addition, the unrepentant Diderot was a special target of the indictment, shown by the fact that Joly de Fleury had included in his original draft of offending books, to be mentioned by name, not only the Pensees philosophiques but also the Letter on the Blind, the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb, and the Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature* The Attorney General also expressed in his indictment indignation regarding one of the Encyclopedias most emphasized and self-professed characteristics: all the venom rife in this Dictionary is to

be found in the cross references 5 It is not surprising that he should say

so, seeing that Diderot s own article on Encyclopedia had ostentatiously advertised the ideological use to which the cross references were to be put. 6 Let it be said in passing, however, that cross references were actually less used, and less skillfully used, than they should have been. 7 Even Le Breton admitted this, when replying in 1768 to an upstart proposal that the Ency-


6


--, DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

clopedie should be completely redone. 8 Whether as a result of the pressure o time or of simple negligence, the system of cross references did not turn out to be so elaborate or insidious as Diderot had said it would. But Joly de Fleury is hardly to be blamed for taking Diderot at his word.

Responding to the Attorney General s indictment, the Parlement of Paris decreed that the sale and distribution of the Encyclopedic should be sus pended, pending an examination of the volumes already published. 9 And on 6 February the membership of the examining commission was announced. 10 Three doctors of theology, three lawyers, two professors of philosophy, and one academician: nine men, and good Jansenists all. 11

Joly de Fleury s indictment and the resultant action of the Parlement were a testimonial to the influence and effectiveness of the Jansenist De Chaumeix s Prejuges Ugitimes contre I Encyclopedic, a work which kept dropping relentlessly from the press, volume after volume, in the years 1758 and I759. 12 The author of this compilation was not the only tormentor of the Encyclopedists there were also Moreau, Palissot, and others more ob scure 13 - but at just this juncture he was the most excruciating, and with one voice the philosophes exclaimed that he misrepresented their writings or grossly quoted them out of context. 14 As the publishers presently wrote to Malesherbes, We take the liberty of imploring you not to sacrifice us, as a result of impressions unfavorable to the Encyclopedic caused by a writer who, in altering the passages he quotes or in presenting them in a false light, has passed beyond the limits of judicious criticism. 15

There can be no doubt that there existed among the devout in 1759 a great deal of alarm about the progress of freethinking in France. In so far as this was true, the action of the Parlement may be interpreted as sincere. Even so, it may have been too zealous for the good of its own cause, for, as Barbier remarked, perhaps it would have been prudent not to set forth eloquently, in the discourse of the Attorney General, the systems of deism, materialism, and irreligion, and the poison that perhaps exists in some of the articles, there being many more persons with the capacity of reading this 6 February decree of thirty pages than of thumbing through seven folio volumes. 16

It should also be noticed that the action of the Parlement, sincere though it no doubt was, was partly inspired by shrewd political calculation and had a certain captiousness about it. As Tom Paine observed in The Rights of Man regarding eighteenth-century France, Between the Monarchy, the Parliament, and the Church, there was a rivalship of despotism. In this instance the action of the Parlement was tantamount to insinuating that the regularly constituted offices of administration Malesherbes and his censors,


THE DEATH OF THE PHOENIX 335

operating under the authority of the chancellor, who, in turn, received his authority from the king were remiss. Rivalry between Crown and Parle- ment was chronic during the eighteenth century, and this incident furnishes an excellent example of the Parlement s attempt to encroach upon the power of the throne. So, too, did Malesherbes and others interpret it at the time. 17 From the standpoint of the Encyclopedic, the Parlement forced the issue at a particularly touchy moment, for the quinquennial representative assem bly of the French clergy was being held in 1758-9. At each of these assemblies the clergy voted the government what they meticulously and emphatically described as a c free gift (don gratuit), thus symbolizing the clergy s fierce resistance to the idea that church property should be taxed as other property was, or, indeed, that it should be taxed at all In such circumstances, the clergy were usually able to see to it that their free gift really bought some thing. Their temper being what it was in 1759 for example, in the preced ing year an abbe had actually published a justification of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew s Day, as well as a defense of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes* it is fairly safe to conclude that even had the Parlement not forced the issue, the government would still have been under pressure to do something about the Encyclopedic. The Assembly of the Clergy got what it wanted in 1759, and was so well satisfied that, before it dispersed, it voted the government an unprecedented sixteen million livres. 18

The appointment by the Parlement of the nine examiners was not in itself a deathblow for the Encyclopedic, although it was very bad news and the harbinger of worse. It came just at the time when Volume VIII was in press. 19 In spite of this adversity, Diderot, with astonishing perseverance, pushed on with plans for continuing the work. A letter written on 12 Feb ruary by Nicolas Caroillon of Langres, who was then visiting the Diderots in Paris, remarked that M. d Alembert and M. Diderot are going to com mence work upon the continuation of the Encyclopedic And on 24 February D Alembert wrote, somewhat scornfully, to Voltaire, As for Diderot, he continues to be dead set upon wanting to do the Encyclopedic; but it is being asserted that the Chancellor does not agree with this way of thinking: he is going to suppress the work s license, and give Diderot peace and quiet in spite of himself. 20

The blow fell on 8 March. On that day a royal decree was issued condemn ing the Encyclopedic and suppressing it in its entirety. The advantages to be derived from a work of this sort, in respect to progress in the arts and

  • Abbe Jean Novi de Caveirac, Apologlc de Louis XIV ct de son Conseil, sur la revocation de

Vcdit de Nanfef , . , wee une dissertation sur la journee de la S. Earthelemi (n.p., 1758)-


-~6 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

sciences, the decree declared, can never compensate for the irreparable damage that results from it in regard to morality and religion. Thus the King, sitting in his council at Versailles, and upon the advice of the Chan cellor, revoked the license, claiming to do so for good and all: Besides, what soever new precautions might be taken to prevent there creeping into the last volumes features as reprehensible as those in the earlier ones, there would always be an inherent drawback in allowing the work to continue, namely that it would allow of the dissemination not only of the new volumes but also of those that have already appeared. 5 21 It was scant comfort to Diderot and the publishers that the decree took the matter out of the hands of the Parle- ment and the Parlement s nine examiners.

Diderot s policy had been to transform the Encyclopedic from a mere work of reference to a conveyor of ideas ideas that in the last analysis were pro foundly political in their effect. He was now paying the price of this daring policy; his work had become inextricably entangled among political forces vying with one another for power. Nor were old religious animosities un stirred. The reference in the royal decree to the advice of the Chancellor made Barbier suspect that Lamoignon was aiding his friends the Jesuits to forestall the Jansenist Parlement. 22 In all of these rivalries and antipathies the Encyclopedic was in part agent, in part scapegoat. No doubt the struggle was made more bitter by the irritations and frustrations caused by the failures and the disgraces of the French arms in the great war then being waged. Diderot was caught in the bufferings of a great and bewildering political storm.

Still, Diderot and the publishers did not despair. Private property and indeed a great deal of it was at stake, and even if the venture could not be saved on its intellectual merits, perhaps it could be on its commercial ones. The publishers had accepted from their subscribers and there were now some four thousand 23 advances of money considerably greater than the value of the volumes that had so far been issued. Later in 1759 the gov ernment declared this difference to be the not inconsiderable sum of seventy- two livres on each subscription. 24 In view of all the capital outlays that the publishers had already made in anticipation of being allowed to finish the many volumed work, it followed, of course, that if they were required to make a refund they might very easily find themselves bankrupt. Just Volume VIII alone, the four thousand copies of which were ready to be distributed to subscribers but were now forbidden by the royal decree, represented a large investment. In present-day prices the total edition of this volume was worth some $400,000, if one follows the calculations of a. leading French


THE DEATH OF THE PHOENIX 037

economist and uses for the basis of price comparison the wages of the no toriously underpaid, unskilled labor of that day and the wages for unskilled labor in ours. 25 In the ancien regime it was always an extremely grave matter in the eyes of magistrates to touch private property, and this, of course, con stitutes the reason why Diderot and his friends so often talked about the immense sums ventured upon the Encyclopedic?* The very starkness of their financial outlook may, paradoxically, have caused the publishers to hope that the government would stop short of ruthlessly bankrupting them.

So the publishers and Diderot did not quite despair. Instead, they took two important decisions. At a dinner meeting, held probably in late March (Diderot described these events in a letter to Grimm on i May), we made our arrangements; we encouraged one another; we swore to see the thing through; we agreed to work up the following volumes with as much free dom of thought as the preceding ones, even at the risk of having to print in Holland. . . . But as it was to be feared lest my enemies redouble their fury if this arrangement should become known, and persecution, changing the object of its attack, be transferred from the book to the authors of the book, it was agreed that I should not show myself and that David should see to gathering in the parts still lacking/ 2T

Thus Diderot went underground : the bolts on my door were shot each day from six in the morning until two in the afternoon. 2S The Encyclopedic was to go on. But clearly it was to be a lonely business. D Alembert could at most be counted on for some articles on mathematics, and Diderot told Grimm that there was no question of trying to persuade D Alembert to take on again any of the duties of an editor. D Alembert had been at the dinner, but, according to Diderot, had comported himself outrageously and left early. It is certain that the Encyclopedic has no enemy more determined than he. 2d No person with any official connection wanted henceforth to be associated with a condemned work, so there was no use of counting any more on Turgot. Marmontel and Duclos were already gone. The Abbe Morellet explained in his Memoir es that The Encyclopedic having been suppressed by decree of council, I did not think that I should henceforth share the dis credit that this suppression would cast upon a man of my profession who should continue to co-operate, in spite of the government, with a work proscribed on the grounds of attacking government and religion. 30 Even Voltaire, who was safe enough far off at the Genevan frontier, decided to make no more contributions. 31 Few colleagues were left to Editor Diderot, save the untiring compiler, De Jaucourt and himself.

Diderot s sense of loneliness was increased during this prolonged nervous


g DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

crisis by the fact that Grimm left Paris in early March to rejoin Mme d Epi- nay in Geneva, stopping off at Langres on the way in order to see Diderot s old father, who was to live only a few weeks longer. 32 Diderot s letters to Grimm contain an abundance of information regarding the events of this unhappy year. They are documents, too, that vividly reveal Diderot s state of mind, his exhaustion, his irresoluteness, his dejection, his sorrow over the death of his father, and his loneliness, which caused him to write to his absent friend in terms of a devotion quite feminine and seek to draw strength from the superabundance of Grimm s bland and sometimes brutal

egotism.

Suddenly Diderot found himself in very real jeopardy of arrest and punish ment. His underground routine of writing articles behind bolted doors was cataclysmically interrupted by a scare that was anything but imaginary. All of a sudden it has been necessary to carry off the manuscripts during the night, escape from my own house, sleep elsewhere, seek out a refuge, and think of providing myself with a post chaise and of traveling as far as the earth would carry me. 33 What had happened was that there was being surreptitiously circulated in Paris a pamphlet misleadingly entitled Memo randum for Abraham Chaumeix against the Would-be Philosophers Diderot and D Alembert, and that its authorship was generally ascribed to Diderot. 34 He described the pamphlet to Grimm as a long, insipid, boring, and flat satire. No lightness, nor finesse, nor gaiety, nor taste, but, in compensation, insults, sarcasms, and impieties. Jesus and his mother, Abraham Chaumeix, the Court, the city, the Parlement, the Jesuits, the Jansenists, men of letters, the nation in a word, all the respectable authorities and all the sacred names that there are, dragged in the mud. That s the work being attributed to me, and that almost with unanimity. 35 No doubt the pamphlet was ascribed to Diderot because Abraham Chaumeix had been such a gadfly of the Encyclopedic; but Diderot, in a letter the tone of which seems to reflect his awareness of Malesherbes exasperation about the recent Affair of the Dedications, swore to Malesherbes on all that men hold most sacred, that I had no part in it directly or indirectly. 36 Besides this assurance, Diderot had had to visit the Lieutenant-General of Police, the Solicitor General, and the Attorney General, in each place protesting his innocence. C I have been over whelmed by so much anxiety and so much fatigue, both at once, that I shan t get over it for a couple of months. Diderot s acquaintances he mentioned specifically D Holbach, Malesherbes, Turgot, D Alembert, and Morellet all urged him to take to flight, all of them arguing that in regard to a criminal case the safest thing to do was to enter one s plea from afar.


THE DEATH OF THE PHOENIX 339

Yes, the safest, answered Diderot, but the most honest is not to accuse oneself when one is innocent/ 37 So he stayed.

A famous story regarding the relations of Diderot and Malesherbes is told by Mme de Vandeul, and almost certainly pertains to this period. Some time afterwards [Mme de Vandeul had just been describing Diderot s imprison ment at Vincennes], the Encyclopedic was stopped again. M. de Malesherbes warned my father the next day he would give the order to seize his manu scripts and boxes.

"What you tell me upsets me horribly. I shall never find the time to move

out all my manuscripts, and besides it is not easy to find in twenty-four hours

people willing to take charge of them and with whom they will be in safety."

"Send them all to me," replied M. de Malesherbes, "No one will come

here to look for them."

My father did indeed send half of his papers to the very man who was ordering the search for them. 38 The usual presumption has been, following the context of Mme de Vandeul s account, that this event occurred in 1752, when the first two volumes were suspended. But the letter to Grimm, which first became known in 1931 and which mentioned Diderot s having to re move the manuscripts during the night, has given rise to the conclusion that this famous incident was a part of the crisis of I759- 39

During the ensuing weeks Diderot was in such a state that D Holbach saw to it that a change of scene was provided. We are in the process of making journeys/ wrote Diderot to Grimm on 20 May. The Baron is taking me around, and he has no idea of the good he is doing. We have been to Versailles, to the Trianon, to Marly. One of these days we are going to Meudon. 40 Diderot described the trip to Marly in a beautiful letter to Sophie Volland, a letter suffused with a muted and haunting lyricism in prose. e je portois tout & travers les objets dcs pas errans et une ame melanco- lique! 41 There is no doubt about the wistfulness of his mood. The very sound and cadence of the syllables re-enforces the meaning of the words.

His melancholy was increased by apprehensions about his father s health, and this emotion was fortified by a sense of guilt at not being in Langres during his father s last days. He s very sick, isn t he? Very old, very worn out? ... My father will die, without having me by his side. . . . Ah! my friend, what am I doing here? He wants me, he is touching upon his last moments, he calls me, and I do not go. ... I beseech you: do not detest me. 42 And in a letter to Dr. Theodore Tronchin, thanking him for his advice regarding the ailing parent, Diderot wrote, 1 would subtract from my own life to protract that of my father, and no one in the world has


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS 34

greater confidence in your knowledge than I. I have only one regret, and that is my being unable to go and settle down beside the old man, look after his health myself, and carry out everything you have prescribed for his

conservation And then, apologizing for his delay in acknowledging

Tronchin s prescription, he added: 1 hope that you will find somewhat extenuating the lengthy broils into which I have been plunged, and the sort of stupid numbness that has followed upon them. Just imagine, Monsieur, that several times I have been on the point o exiling myself, that this was the advice of my friends, and that I had to muster all the courage of inno cence to stand fast against these alarms and remain in the midst of the dangers round about me. Now tranquillity commences to be born again. I am about to regain obscurity and recover peace. Happy the man whom men have forgotten and who can escape from this world without being noticed. You think that happiness lies beyond the tomb and I think that it lies in it. That is all the difference that there is between our two systems. 43

Diderot s nervous exhaustion increased the tension of his relationships with others. D Holbach displeased him. Grimm was the only friend that he had or wanted to have. Sophie Volland s mother was so inscrutable that the sphinxes he had seen at Marly reminded him of her. Tour mother s soul is sealed with the seven seals of the Apocalypse/ he wrote her daughter. On her forehead is written: Mystery. In spite of his misery he forgot himself long enough to relish this phrase, which he repeated in a letter to Grimm. But there was not just the mother to contend with: Sophie s sister was sus picious of him, too. And even Sophie, the incomparable Sophie, had shown herself to be jealous. That annoys me. ... I don t like to be under sus picion/ And as for jealousy, Mme Diderot had her share of it, and precipi tated a quarrel over Sophie Volland so appalling that Diderot went to com plain of her to the monk who was her confessor. Diderot did not find people easy to live with in I759- 44

Accompanying his depression was poor physical health. Let s speak no more about milk/ he wrote to Grimm. Health will come back to me as soon as trouble leaves me. No more troubles, no milk will be needed/ Slowly he began to mend, from time to time he felt energy once more stirring within him, occasionally his mood of listlessness and lassitude lightened. Now and then I feel once more some spark of enthusiasm/ he wrote to Grimm on 20 May, and on 5 June he wrote, coining a word that seems as quaint in French as it does in English, 1 encyclopedize like a galley slave/ But the news of the death of his father, which occurred on 3 June, struck


THE DEATH OF THE PHOENIX 341

him hard. The final blow left for me to receive has fallen: my father is dead. 45

It has been shown by Freud that the death of the father is an exceptional moment in the life of any man. With Diderot it seems to have been es pecially so, and a Freudian would find complete substantiation of this gen eralization in Diderot s saying, as he did in a later letter to Grimm, Other sorrows do not prepare a man for this one. 46 For the first time, Diderot began to speak of death as something that might happen to him. 47 And perhaps because he felt closer to death, he was, in a mysterious way that was of enormous importance in the evolution of his creativeness, closer to life. From the miseries of this year and from the grimness and drudgery of the bleak years that followed it, something was distilled, exquisite and precious, in the development of an artist. 48 In the bitterness of misfortunes, heaped upon him as upon some hero in Sophocles, there was forged the soul of the man who has been called by a great French scholar the mind and the heart of the eighteenth century/ 49

But of all this Diderot could not be aware, nor that, after six more years of clandestine editing and toilsome writing, it would be vouchsafed to his Encyclopedic to be published in one release with almost no opposition. This he could not know. Instead he could only cry out, as he did to Grimm, How I have suffered for the past two years! 5 50 I am so tired out that I would like to be heard without having to speak, have my letters get done without my having to write them, and arrive where I want to be without my having to move/ 51 Yet in spite of such lassitude, he turned again to his work for the Encyclopedic, with a stubbornness and a tenacity that is close to heroism. The circumstances, wrote Lord Morley, under which these five-and-thirty volumes were given to the world mark Diderot for one of the true heroes of literature/ 52 Diderot was, in many respects, the sanguineous, vehement, volatile mortal that Carlyle called him, but he was not volatile in this. We swore to see the thing through/ he had written to Grimm, and so, in black ness of mood and exhaustion of spirit, he turned once again to his great editorial task, to that Encyclopedic of which it has recently and well been said, in bicentennial appreciation of its worth, In its subject matter almost everything is superannuated, in its aspiration everything is still alive/ 53

Years later, when all the remaining ten volumes of letterpress were ready to appear, he reiterated in his foreword his oft-repeated appeal to posterity. We shall have obtained the recompense we expected from our contempo raries and from posterity, if we cause them to say, some day, that we have


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

nTt lived altogether in vain. No doubt this thought inspired him in 1759, too as he turned, with unquenchable determination, to the drudgery of the seemingly endless work that lay before him. We swore to see the thing through. Perhaps he might even yet see dawn.


EPILOGUE


The Nature of the Ultimate Triumph


distressing events of 1759 brought Diderot close JL to the end of his endurance. Ordinarily he was a man resilient enough not to be a prey to depression and discouragement for long. Nevertheless, that year s dispiriting and discouraging occurrences might well have unmanned him had he been unable to draw upon reserves which had been silently accumulating through the years. So much seemed against him as he drank deeply from the well of loneliness: the contumely showered upon the dishonored Encyclopedic by the most august authorities of the whole kingdom; the clear imputation that he himself was guilty of twenty years of treason; the defection of colleagues and collaborators; the alarms regarding his personal safety; his lassitude and lack of resolution, aggravated by the sadness and foreboding which he felt because of his father s death, all this might permanently have unnerved him had there not been going on for a long time a testing which prepared him for a crisis so momentous,

It might all have ended with a whimper. Instead, what seemed like a year of ending turned out to be a year of beginning. And the crisis, which might have ended in demoralization and despair, culminated in affirmation and success.

Eventually the complete Encyclopedic was written and published after all. Confronting its suppression in 1759, Diderot s spirit rose to challenge the finality of the act. We swore to see the thing through/ And in 1765-6 the work was published in all the plenitude of its remaining ten volumes of letterpress a phoenix rising from the ashes. To complete the Encyclopedic, in view of the discouraging circumstances, required boldness, stamina, perseverance and self-confidence. And even to make the try, Diderot had to know inside himself that through the apprentice years he had been develop-

343


, DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

344

ing and tempering tie qualities and characteristics requisite to cope with an emergency like this.

In the crisis o 1759, Diderot s past entitled him to believe that he had developed moral and intellectual qualities equal to doing the job. What would an inventory of these qualities include? The answer is spread on the record of the preceding chapters. He had abundantly tested the quality of his intellectual competence. He knew that he had disciplined himself to endure the drudgery of backbreaking work. And his devotion since 1746 to the idea of the Encydofidie, his perseverance through the years, was another test that he had passed: he knew himself to be a man who would not quit. The years had proved his doggedness, as they were now to do again. His writings, of course, were the visible signs of his qualifications for seeing an encyclopedia through and even writing much of it, for his books had given solid evidence of encyclopedic range. He had proved his competence in areas as diverse as epistemology, psychology, aesthetics, literature, science, and technology. But most of all, he knew himself to be the master and exemplar of something that was in part an attitude toward the world and in part a method of thought. He was a philosophe, indeed THE philosophe, a standard-bearer to whom men might repair. He was a tested leader of the Enlightenment, the experienced champion of an intellectual approach toward science and knowledge that in effect was a political movement. The ten years that had passed since the days when he was writing the Letter on the Blind or mulling over the prospectus of the Ency dope die or discussing with D Alembert its Preliminary Discourse had clarified the issues and confirmed in Diderot if it is fair to judge by the books he wrote the consistency and sturdiness of those attitudes of intellectual sincerity and integrity and open-minded search for truth that had characterized him from early years. All these elements of leadership had been measured in him; and now, con sciously or unconsciously, he was evidently able to feel that in the present crisis he had the qualifications to carry out the task.

And indeed he had. The qualities requisite for doing so were the qualities, enlarged and intensified by the emergency, that we have seen developing in the Diderot of earlier days. The emergency brought forth the familiar Diderot written large. To paraphrase Talleyrand, the more Diderot changed, the more he was the same. The crisis of 1759, in short, produced a Diderot who was truly the climax and end-product of his testing years.

So much for the public Diderot the Diderot identified with the Encydo- pedie. But there was another Diderot, one more hidden and withdrawn, whose response to the crisis of 1759 was more subtle and more difficult to


EPILOGUE 345

define. In one sense, as we have seen, the crisis of 1759 served to intensify the qualities that had been ripening in him during the years of triaL He was still the old Diderot, only more so. But in a subtler and perhaps more sig nificant sense, he eventually emerged from the crisis a different Diderot. Fortunately this elusive change in his personality can be closely followed, for it is just at this breaking point in his life that we begin to have the riches of his letters to Sophie Volland. Consequently, students of Diderot are now realizing that the supreme significance of the crises of 1759 lies in their having induced in him a process of maturation built solidly on the founda tion of his past experience but utilizing and interpreting it in a different way. It is the difference between the young Diderot and not so very young, at that, for he was forty-six when the crisis came upon him and the mature Diderot. This process of maturation was essential for the production of those later works which have become the subjects of such close study and such wide admiration in the twentieth century.

Yet Diderot grew old and died without allowing more than the merest handful of people to inspect the abundant evidence of this maturation. Masterpieces flowed from his pen and then were put away in a drawer. Whether from prudence, whether from soul-weariness at the perverseness of his own generation, Diderot laid all his bets on posterity. After 1759 ^ e published almost nothing, save of course the Encyclopedic, which is scarcely to be compared with unpublished masterpieces like The Nun f Rameau s Nephew, D Alembert s Dream, James the Fatalist, or The Refutation of the Wor\ by Helvetius Entitled Man! This very reticence denoted a Diderot greatly changed, for before 1759 there had been almost nothing that he wrote that he did not publish. Now he was content to publish almost nothing at all, with the result that posterity has the privilege of knowing his mind and, by doing so, of gazing into the central vortex of eighteenth-century thought much more intimately than his contemporaries were able to do. Indeed, to most of his contemporaries Diderot seemed in his later life to be a most unliterary literary man, satisfied to grow fat upon the largesse of Catherine the Great and exhibiting, as for example in the circumstances of his hard- headed negotiations regarding the marriage of his daughter, little but the solid and unexciting qualities of the typical bourgeois.

But the real Diderot, the Diderot that the present generation (more than any of its predecessors) has come to esteem and admire, revealed himself in just these unpublished masterpieces. They have in them, characteristic of Diderot s later period, a quality both of seeking and having found and still of seeking again. They have in them a subtle and powerful dialectic that


346 DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

comes from questioning life and answering life. In short, Diderot s later writings have an elusive but unmistakable quality of seeming to see far and deep into the mysteries of life, further and deeper than he had seen before, perhaps further and deeper than any other man of his century save Goethe. To use a term liked by Emerson and Carlyle, he became one who really sees, a seer. Forsaken by his friends, bereaved of his father, forced to work on the Encyclopedic behind locked doors and almost singlehandedly, he found resources within himself that might otherwise have lain dormant. The ulti mate effect was to refine his thought, make his relations with others more subtle, and deepen his humanity.


List of Abbreviations


A1EF Cahiers de V Association Internationale Acs ttudes jran$aises.

AJJR Annales dc la Societe Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Annee JJtteraire Annee Littcraire, ed. Elic-Cathcrine Frcron, 202 vols. (Paris, 1754-90).

D Argenson Rene-Louis de Paulmy, Marquis d Argenson, Journal et memoires, 9 vols. (Paris, 1859-67).

Asse Eugene Asse, Diderot et Voltaire, d apres les papicrs inedits de la censure,

Cabinet Historique, nouvelle serie, I (1882), 3-38.

A.-T. Denis Diderot, Oeuvres completes, ed. Jule* Assczat and Maurice Tourneux, 20

vols. (Paris, 1875-7).

AUP Conferences faites a la Sorbonnc a 1 occasion du 2 e centenaire dc ^Encyclopedic,

Annales de I Vniversite de Paris, XXII ([Oct.] 1952), numero special.

Barbier, Journal Edmond -Jean-Franc, ois Barbier, Journal historique et anecdotique du regne de Louis XV, 4 vols. (Paris, 1847-56).

B.N., MSS, Fr. Bibliothequc Nationalc, Departement des Manuscrits, Fonds Francais,

B.N., MSS, Nouv, acq. r. Fonds Nouvcllcs Acquisitions Francaises.

B.N., MSS, Joly de Fleury Fonds Joly de Fleury.

Bonnefon Paul Bonnefon, Diderot prisonnier a Vincennes, RHLF, vi (1899), 200-224,

BSHAL Bulletin de la Societe Historique et Archeologique de Langres.

CJ Deni* Diderot, Correspondance inedite, ed. Andre Babclon, 2 vols. (Paris, 1931).

Corr. litt. Friedrich Melchior Grimm, Correspondance litterairc, philosophique et critique far Grimm, Diderot, Rayna},etc., cd. Maurice Tourneux, 16 vols. (Paris, 1877-82).

Courtois, Chronologic* Louis-J. Courtois, Chronologic critique de la vie et des oeuvres de Jean-Jacques Rousseau, AJJR, xv (1923), 1-366.

Cru R. Loyalty Cru, Diderot as a Disciple of English Thought (New York, 1913).

DNB Dictionary of National Biography.

Diderot, Corr. Denis Diderot, Correspondance, ed. Georges Roth, i (/7 J- 757) (Paris, [1955]); ii (Decembre ijsj-Novembre 1759) (Paris, [1956])-

Diderot Studies Diderot Studies, ed. Otis E. Fellows and Norman L. Torrey, i (Syracuse, 1949); n (Syracuse [1952])-

Encyc. Denis Diderot, cd., Encyclopedic, ou dictionnaire rdsonne des sciences, des arts

et des metiers, par une societe de gens de lettres, 17 vols. (Paris, 1751-65).

Encyc., Planches Denis Diderot, ed., Recueil de planches sur les sciences, les arts > liberaux et les arts mechaniques, avec leur explication, n vols. (Pans, 1762-72). 347


348

Guillemin Guyot

jm

Le Gras


DIDEROT: THE TESTING YEARS

Henri Guillemin, Les Affaires de 1 Ermitage (i75^757)/ A H R > XXIX 59-258.

Charly Guyot, Diderot par lui~memc (Paris, [i953])-

Journal of the History of Ideas.

Joseph Le Gras, Diderot et I Encyclopedie (Amiens, 1928).


Luneau de Boisjermain MSmoire pour Pierre-Joseph-Franfois Luneau de Boisjermain, souscripteur de I Encyclopedie . . . (Pans, 177*)-

May Louis-Philippe May, L Histoire et les sources de 1 Encyclopedic, d apres le registre

de deliberations et de comptes des e"diteurs, et un memoire inedit, Revue de Synthese, xv (1938), 5~ 110 -

MLN Modern Language Notes.

MLQ Modern Language Quarterly.

MLR Modern Language Review.

Naigeon Jacques-Andre" Naigeon, Memoires historiques et philosophiques sur la vie et les outrages de D. Diderot (Paris, 1821).

PMLA PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association of America).

RDM Revue des Deux Mondes.

RHLF Revue d Histoire JJtteraire de la France.

RHPHGC Revue d Histoire de la Philosophic et d Histoire Generate de la Civilisation.

RLC Revue de Utterature Comparee.

RQH Louis-Francois Marcel, 4 Une Lettrc du pere de Diderot k son fils, detenu h

Vincennes (3 septembre I749) ^evue des Questions Historiques, cix (1928), 100-113.

JRR Romanic Review.

Rousseau, cd. Hachette Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Oeuvres completes, ed. Hachette, 13 vols. (Paris. 1885-1905),


Rousseau, Corf. gen.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Correspondance generale f ed. Theophile Dufour and P.-P. Plan, 20 vols. (Paris, 1924-34).


SV Denis Diderot, Lettres a Sophie Volland, ed. Andr Babelon, 3 vols. (Paris, 1930).

Mme de Vandeul Marie-Angclique de Vandeul, nee Diderot, Memoires pour servir a 1 histoire dc la vie ct des ouvrages de Diderot, A.-T., i, pp. xxix-lxii.

Vcnturi, Jeunesse Franco Venturi, Jeunesse de Diderot (de 1713 a 1753) (Paris, 1939). Venturi, Origin* Franco Venturi, Le Origini dett Enddopedia (Florence, 1946).

Voltaire, ed. Moland Voltaire, Oeuvres completes, cd. Moland, 52 vols. (Paris: Garnier freres, 1877-85).


NOTES FOR PAGES

Notes

CHAPTER i

1. Diderot, Corr., n, 194.

2. Encyc. t ix, 244-5.

3. Diderot, Corr., n, 207-8. For an attempt by Diderot to represent this speech phonetically,

see Diderot, Corr., i, 143.

4. Louis-Francois Marcel, Le Bapteme dc Diderot, Semaine religieuse du diocese de Langres,

1 8 Oct. 1913, 675-80; George R. Havens, The Dates o Diderot s Birth and Death, A/LW,

LV (1940), 3i-5-

5. Louis -Francois Marcel, Le Frere de Diderot (Paris, 1913), 3 and n.

6. Ibid. 22-3; Louis-Francois Marcel, Un Oncle de Diderot: Antoine-T homos Diderot de I Ordre

des Freres Precheurs (1682-1756} (Liguge [Vienne], I93)> 3-

7. Marcel, Le Frere de Diderot, 14-23, 191-7-

8. 4 Sept. 1741 (Louis-Frangois Marcel, Le Manage de Diderot [Largcntiere (Ardeche), 1928],

17 n.; Marcel, Un Oncle de Diderot, 10 n.).

9. RQH, non.; Martin Lopelmann, Der junge Diderot (Berlin, 1934), 9~ 10 -

10. Lopelmann, Der junge Diderot, 10.

11. Diderot, Corr., n, 119, 157.

12. SV, i, 198 (30 Sept. 1760).

13. A.-T., xvn, 333, 334, 335-

14. Francois Helmc, Diderot dans notre art. A propos de son bi-centenaire, Presse Uedicale,

vol. n for 1913, 1247.

15. A.-T., xvn, 335. r

16. SV, n, 266 (i Aug. 1765).

17. Memorandum ca. 1821 by Mme de Vandeul for her doctor (Jean Massiet du Biest, La Fills

de Diderot [Tours, 1949], 218).

1 8. Massiet du Biest, 186; Louis-Francois Marcel, La Soeur de Diderot: Denise Diderot (27

Janvier 1715-26 mars 1797) (Langres, 1925), 42 n.

19. Massiet du Biest, 175; A.-T., xvn, 335.

20. Facts in this paragraph are from a registry book in the Archives municipales at the Hotel

de Ville at Langres: Etat civil, 1699 & 1721, de la Paroisse de Saint-Martin/ Diderot s aunt, Catherine Diderot (d. 26 Dec. 1735 at the age of 46), is sometimes confused with his younger sister, the second Catherine (Diderot, Corr., i, 23).

21. BHLF, LV (1955). 2 3<5.

22. Mme de Vandeul, Iviii; Massiet du Biest, 207.

23. Marcel, Le Frere de Diderot, i.

24. Mme de Vandeul, Iviii-lx. The Houdon bronze is in the council room of the Hotel de Ville

at Langres.

25. Mme de Vandeul, xxix.

26. A.-T., xi, 250.

27. A.-T., xi, 253.

28. A.-T., xrv, 439.

29. Herbert Dieckmann, Invcritaire du Fonds Vandeul et Inedits de Diderot (Geneva, 19 51), 204.

30. Lopelmann, Der junge Diderot, 21-2; Louis-Francois Marcel, Diderot ccolier, EHLF,

31. Regarding the Jesuits and secondary education in France, see Pierre Clarac, ^ Encyclopedic

et les problemes d education, AUP, xxn ([Oct.] 1952), numero special, 215; also the excel lent article by Marcel Bouchard, L Enseignement des Jesuites sous 1* Ancien Regime, Informa tion Historique, xvi (1954), I2 7~34- , .

32. Diderot was born at 9> Place Diderot (then called Place Chambeau). On 20 July 1714, his

father bought the house across the square at 6, Place Diderot, occupied by the Diderot family for the rest of the eighteenth century. The marker upon it which claims that it is

349


NOTES FOR PAGES 16-25 35

Diderot s birthplace is incorrect: see Leon Guyot, La Maison natale de Diderot, BSHAL, 1931, 34-40; Hubert Gautier, U Pte dc D.dtrot, i68 S - I7 59- (Mouhas,


1933) 8.

33 A -T., xvn, 359; Marcel, Diderot toiler, RHLF, xxxiv, 382-3-

34. Maurice Tourneux, Diderot ct Catherine II (Paris, 1899)* 349-50, 353-

35. A.-T., n, 333-

37*. tS 3 45 ff Oct. 1760). Mme de Vandeul, xxix-xxx, and Naigeon, 3, describe a similar

incident, but with much more sensational details. ^ ^ .

38 A -T m 421, 468-88. Diderot s familiarity with the classics is emphasized by Erie M. Steel,

  • Diderot s Imagery: A Study of a Literary Personality (New York, 1941), 48-51-

39. A.-T-, m, 478.

40. A.-T., ni, 481.

41. Corr. litt., vm, 151-3. . ._., , , .

42. A.-T., vi, 289-302; Corr. lift., vm, 153-4- Cf. Ernst Robert Curtius, Diderot und Horaz, in his Europaische Uteratur und lateinisches Uittelalter (Berne, 1948), 556-64.

43. A.-T., xvm, 167.

45! Gu^avrChar"lL*and Le"on Herrmann, Diderot, annotateur de Perse/ RHLF, xxxv (1928), 39-63.

46. A.-T,, xrv, 438.

47. A.-T., vi, 298.

CHAPTER 2

1. Mme de Vandeul, xxx.

2. Marcel, Le Frere de Diderot, 25.

3. Ibid. 30-33. The Canon died on 28 April 1728. In the Entretien d un pere avec ses enfants,

Diderot gives a rather different account of the succession to the prebend and the Canon s death (A.-T., v, 302). The circumstances as reconstructed by Canon Marcel seem to me to have more verisimilitude.

4. Mme de Vandcul, Ix. .

5. A.-T., vi, 182. Diderot may have been very gravely ill about 1729, for he is alleged to have

declared in 1747 that at the age of sixteen, finding himself in danger of death, he had called a priest and received the sacraments (Bonnefon, 203),

6. A.-T., x, 391. See also Diderot s remark in a memorandum for Catherine II (Tourneux,

Diderot et Catherine II, 159).

7. Mme de Vandeul, xxx.

8. A.-T., xvii, 231, s.v. Subvcnir.*

9. Antoine Taillefer, Tableau historique de I esprit et du caractere des litterateurs jran$oi$,

deptiis la renaissance des lettres jusqu en 1785, 4 vols. (Paris, 1785), rv, 215 flf.

10. Jean Massiet du Biest, Lettres inedites de Naigeon a M r et M me de Vandeul (1786-1787), conccrnant un pro jet d edidon des oeuvres de Diderot et opinion de ceux-ci sur le meme sujet, d apres leur correspondance inedite (1784-1812), BSHAL, I Jan. 1948, 2. Nothing is otherwise known as to the identity of this Mme Frejacques.

11. A convincing argument for the year 1728 is made by Marcel, Diderot ecolier, RHLF, xxxrv, 390-91; cf. Lopelmann, Der junge Diderot, 36 n.

12. The unidentified girl: Diderot, Corr., n, 195. Diderot s early feelings for Mile La Salctte:

Diderot, Corr., i, 145. She married Nicolas Caroillon on 16 April 1736 (Louis-Francois Marcel, Les Premiers Aerostats a Langres, BSHAL, vm [1919], 8).

13. SV, i, 187 (25 Sept. 1760).

14. Canon [Louis-Francois] Marcel, La Jeunesse de Diderot, 1732-1743, Uercure de France,

ccxvi (1929), 68 n.

15. Mme de Vandeul, xxx-xxxi, 1 6. A.-T., x, 351.

17. Johann Georg Wille, Uemoires et journal, ed. Georges Duplessis, 2 vols. (Paris, 1857), I, 91. "Wille dates this meeting in 1740, but Emilia Francis (Strong), Lady Dilke, French En-


NOTES FOR PAGES 25-30 35!

gravers and Draughtsmen of the XVlll Century (London, 1902), 73, proves that it must have been after May 1742.

1 8. Taillefer, Tableau historique, rv, 217.

19. Mmc de Vandeul, xxx; Naigeon, 5.

20. Mme de Vandeul, xxxi. Bernis, however, makes no mention of Diderot (Francois -Joachim

de Pierre, Cardinal de Bernis, Memoires et lettres, ed. Frederic Masson, 2 vols. [Paris, 1903], I, 16-20).

21. Marcel, Diderot ecolier, KH.LF, xxxiv, 396-9; R. Salesscs, TDiderot et I Univcrsite, ou le$

consequences d une mystification, Revue Universitaire, April 1935, 322-33; cf. Ralph Bowen, The Education of an Encyclopedist, Teachers of History: Essays in Honor of Laurence Bradford Packard (Ithaca [N.Y.], 1954), 33-9. My friend, Professor Francois Denoeu, suggests the possibility that Diderot was a pensionnaire at one college and went out to special lectures at the others.

22. Salesses, in Revue Universitaire, April 1935, 329. Cf. Aram Vartanian, Diderot and Descartes

(Princeton, 1953), 40-43.

23. This ingenious supposition is set forth by Jean Pommier, Diderot avant Vincennes (Paris,

I939)> 9- Yvon Belaval, L Esthetique sans paradoxe de Diderot (Paris, 1950), 15, thinks that Diderot transferred from the College d Harcourt to Louis-le-Grand. An anonymous polemical pamphlet of 1759 declared that Diderot did his philosophy* under a Dominican. If this was true, it is clear that even if Diderot was in the Jesuit Louis-le-Grand for his first year of studies in Paris, he did not remain there for his second (Lettres sur le VII 6 volume de I Encyclopedie [n.p., 1759], 37 n.: M. Diderot a fait son cours de Philosophic sous le P. Rozet, dorninicain ). Evidence of Diderot s master of arts degree is on fol. 35 of a University register ( Index Magistrorum in Artibus, B.N., MSS, Fonds latin 9158); re produced in Guyot, 6.

24. A.-T., i, 383-4; but as M. Salesses, Revue Universitaire, April 1935, 325, points out, the

Lettre sur les sourds et muets was published anonymously, and therefore Diderot s references to Louis-le-Grand and to Father Poree may have been intended merely to mystify.

25. Naigeon, 8; Salesses, Diderot et 1 Universite, Revue Universitaire, April 1935, 3250.

26. Diderot, Corr., i, 23, 29.

27. Mme de Vandeul, xxxi-xxxii; she implies that Diderot read law with the procureur before

he tried tutoring, but Naigeon, 15, says that it was the other way around. Regarding Clement, see Marcel, La Jeunesse de Diderot, Mercure de France, ccxvi, 49~53-

28. Mme de Vandeul, xxxiii-xxxiv. There were several persons of the name of Randon con

temporary with Diderot. Assezat declared (A.-T., i, xxxiv n.) that it was Randon de Boisset, and that he was the Randon to whom Diderot referred in his Salon of 1767 (A.-T., xi, 274). But he died a bachelor (Comtc L. Clement de Ris, Paul Randon de Boisset, 1708-1776, Bulletin du Bibliophile et du Bibliothecaire, 39* annee [1872], 201). Canon Marcel, *La Jeunesse de Diderot, Mercure de France, ccxvi, 60-64, believes that Diderot s employer was an Elie Randon de Massanes d Haneucourt; Naigeon, 13-15, stated that it was a M. Randon d Hannecourt.

29. This characteristic of Diderot is commented upon by Steel, Diderot s Imagery, 175-7-

30. Mme de Vandeul, xxxiii.

31. A.-T., m, 460. This work was by Antoine Deparcieux (1703-68), Nouveaux Traites de

trigonometric rectiligne et spherique . . . avec un traite de gnomonique (Paris, 1741). It contains no mention of the part played by Diderot in its preparation.

32. Histoire de Grece, traduite de I Anglois de Temple Stanyan, 3 vols. (Paris: Briasson, 1743),

33. Mme de Vandeul, xxxii-xxxiii. Her name was Helene Brulc (Marcel, La Soeur de Diderot,

34. Mme de Vandeul, xxxvii; the same story, almost verbatim, in Taillefer, Tableau historique t

iv, 224-5. Frangois Genin in Nouvelle Biographic generate (Hoefer), s.v. Diderot, 82, dates this 1741, but adduces no proof.

35. Diderot, Corr., i, 23; my italics. A.-T., xm, 210, s.v. Acier.

36. Mme de Vandeul, xxxiv-xxxvi. . .

37. A.-T., ix, 1 68. The work alluded to is Isaac Newton, Philosophiae naturalis pnnctpta

mathematica, cd. Thomas Le Seur and Francois Jacquier, 4 vols. (Geneva, 1739-42).


2- 2 NOTES FOR PAGES 31-8

38. A.-T-, vin, 398; cf. A.-T., vn, 108.

39. A.-T., vii, 400-401.

li" For a description ca. 1726 of the discussions that went on at the Ca& Procope, see Charles Pineau Duclos, Oeuvres completes, 10 vols. (Paris, 1806), x, 55-69. CL J acc * ues Hlllairet > Evocation du vicux Paris, 2 vols. (Paris, [1952-3])* ^ 619-20.

42. Jean-Nicolas Dufort de Cheverny, Memoires, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Paris, 1909), I, 459-

43. A.-T., v, 411-12. .... ,

44. A.-T., x, 349. The book in question was Venus dans le cloitre, ou la Rehgieuse en chemise,

first published at Cologne in 1683.

45. A.-T., vn, 404.

46. SV, n, 101-2 (28 July 1762). .

47. R. Salesses, Les Mysteres de la jeunesse de Diderot, ou 1 aventure theologique, Uercure

dc France, CCLXX& (193?) 5* n. .

48. Archives Departementales de la Haute-Marne, Fonds Vandeul -4, quoted by Gautier,

Le Pere de Diderot, 17. Cf. the same document: Vous, mon fils 1 aine . . . vous savez ce que j ai fait pour vous; j ai depense" tant pour vous que pour votre soeur la religieuse et pour Diderot le pretre plus que le patrimoine que, moi et Angelique, nous avons eu, tant en mariage que de succession (ibid.).

49. Marcel, Diderot ecolier, RHLF, xxxrv, 400.

50. A.-T., xi, 265-6.

51. Encyc., vn, 262^ s.v. Tour-rare. 1 See also ibid, ix, 8930, s.v. Maitre es arts.

52. Encyc., v, 5 a.

53. Salesses, loc. cit., Mercure de France, CCLXXX, 503-11. M. Salesses thinks it probable that

Diderot even knew Hebrew (ibid. 511-12); but cf. Joseph Edmund Barker, Diderot s Treatment of the Christian Religion in The Encyclopedic (New York, 1941), 24-6.

54. Diderot, Corr., I, 25-6. In 1784 the grandson of Pierre La Salette, he being also the son-

in-law o Diderot, wrote that La Salette had undertaken to try to get the elder Diderot to settle an annuity of 200 livres upon his older son but that his good offices were un successful (Massiet du Biest, Lettres inedites . . . , [supra, ch. 2, note 10], 2-3).

55. Diderot, Corr., i, 26.

56. L Abbe Prevost, Manon Lescaut (Oxford: BlackwelPs French Texts, 1943)* *> 93"4; &**

edition is a facsimile of the authoritative 1753 edition.

57. A.-T., ii 399-

CHAPTER 3

r. Mme de Vandeul, xxxvii. Lester Gilbert Crocker, La Jeunesse de Diderot: Quelques preci sions,* by L. G. Krakeur, PMLA, LVII (1942), 134-5, believes the couple became acquainted in 1742. For lively (though undocumented) articles regarding Mme Diderot, see Henriette Celarie, Le Philosophe mal marie: Diderot et son epouse, Monde Franfais, xn (1948), 39-60, and Jules Bertaut, Madame Diderot/ Revue de France, i June 1924, 574-94, re printed in his Egeries du XVIII 6 siecle (Paris, [1928]), 183-212.

2. For Anne-Toinette s baptismal certificate, see Marcel, Le Mariage de Diderot, 8.

3. The principal building of this convent is now the Musee de 1* Assistance Publique. Regarding

Mme Diderot s family and ancestry, see Massiet du Biest, La Fille de Diderot, 7 n.; also Diderot, Corr., i, 24. Her elder sister, Marie-Antoinette Champion, married Michel Billard (or Billaud). In her declining years she lived with the Diderots (Marcel, Le Mariage de Diderot, 9-10; Louis Marcel, Un Petit Probleme d histoire religieuse et d histoire litteraire: La Mort de Diderot, 1 Revue d Histoire de I Eglise de France, xi [1925], 40 n., 46 n., 211 n.). In the marriage contract of Diderot s daughter, as printed in Cahiers Haut-Marnais, No. 24 (i er trimestre 1951), 19, she is referred to as the widow of Michel Belliard.

4. Mme de Vandeul, xxxvii-xxxviii.

5. Ibid, xxxviii; also Massiet du Biest, La Fille de Diderot, 207.

6. SV, n, 324 (21 Nov. 1765).

7. See Pierre Mesnard, Le Caractere de Diderot, Revue de la Mediterranee, vn (1949), 279; see also his Le Cos Diderot: Etude de caracterologie litteraire (Paris, 1952), 67.


NOTES FOR PAGES 38-46 353

8. Comte Pierre-Louis Roederer, Sur Diderot, Journal de Paris, 17 Fructidor An vi [3 Sept

1798]; reprinted in Roederer, Opuscules meles de literature et de philosophic (Paris, An VIII [1800]), 53; and in Roederer, Oeuvres, 8 vols. (Paris, 1853-9), *v> 2I 5-

9. Mme de Vandeul, xxxviii-xxxix.

10. Diderot, Corr., i, 29.

11. Naigeon, 26.

12. Crocker, La Jeunesse de Diderot, PMLA, LVII, 134.

13. Christmas Eve, 1742 (Diderot, Corr., i, 37).

14. Diderot, Corr., I, 36. 17 Dec. 1742, according to Lester G. Crocker, La Correspondance de

Diderot, by L. G. Krakeur (New York, 1939), 109.

15. Diderot, Corr., i, 35-6. Diderot s brother entered the seminary eight days before Diderot

arrived in Langres in 1742 (ibid. 35); he received the tonsure on 29 June 1743, and entered holy orders sometime in 1746, probably in May (Marcel, Le Frere de Diderot, 42-4).

1 6. Diderot s father mentioned this book in his will (Gautier, Le Pere de Diderot, 15); cf.

Marcel, La Jeunesse de Diderot, Mercure de France, ccxvi, 78 n.

17. Mme de Vandeul, Iviii. Cf. Georges May, Diderot et La Religieuse (New Haven, 1954),

146-52.

18. 3 Sept. 1749 (RQH, no).

19. Diderot, Corr., i, 38, 39.

20. Diderot, Corr., i, 40.

21. Arch, depart., Haute-Marne, Fonds Vandeul, n E 3; published in Diderot, Corr., i, 41-2,

and in Marcel, Le Manage de Diderot, 21-2. This letter reproduced in facsimile in Cahiers Haut-Marnais, No. 24 (i er trimestre 1951), Supplement illustre.

22. Evelyn B. Hall (pseud. S. G. Tallentyre), The Life of Mirabeau (London, 1908),

90.

23. Diderot, Corr., i, 43-4. This aunt was probably his godmother, Claire Vigneron (b. 17 Nov.

1665; date of death unknown). So far as is known, no other of Diderot s aunts was alive at this time (Marcel, Le Frere de Diderot, 193, 197).

24. A.-T., i, Ixiii.

25. Mme de Vandeul, xxxix.

26. CI, n, 17 n. .

27. CI, n, 122. The marriage contract was signed 26 Oct. 1743 (Dieckmann, Inventaire, 162).

28. Auguste Jal, Dictionnaire critique de biographic et d histoire . . . d apres des documents

authentiques inedits, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1872), 495.

29. Mme de Vandeul, xxxix. She states, however, that the marriage took place in ^1744, an

example of how her account of her father is not to be trusted implicitly. For Saint-Pierre- aux-Boeufs, see the Abbe Lebeuf, Histoire de la vitte et de tout le diocese de Paris, 5 vols. (Paris, 1883)5 i, 317-19; and also the same work, Rectifications et additions, by Fernand Bournon (Paris, 1890), 329-30. Cf. the Marquis de Rochegude and Maurice Dumolin, Guide pratique a travers le vieux Paris, nouv. ed. (Paris, 1923), 41.

30. Diderot, Corr., i, 39.

31. Ibid. 46.

33". Charles *Nauroy, Revolutionnaires (Paris, 1891), 244; also in his Le Curieux, i (1883-5),

34. Nauroy, Revolutionnaires, 246; Edmond Beaurepaire, *Les Logis dc Diderot, Revue des

Fran?ais, xvn (1913), 313-

35. RQH, 109.

36. Bonnefon, 203.

37. Mme de Vandeul, xl.

38. Courtois, Chronologic, 36; Rousseau, ed. Hachette, vni, 199.

40! Co urtois 1 , Chronologic/ 41, 48, 40, and esp. 50 n.; Louis Ducros, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: De Geneve a I Hermitage (/7- 7J7) (Paris, 1908), 131 n, argues that the summer of 1746 is the correct date.

41. Rousseau, ed. Hachette, vin, 246.

42. CI, xi, 14 n.


NOTES FOR PAGES 47-52

354

CHAPTER 4

1. A.-T., n, 378.

2. Bonnefon, 212.

4 ^Per^oquet, ou melange dc diverse* pieces interessantes pour V esprit et pour It coeur, a vols. (Frankfurt am Main, 1742), i, 78-80; also A.-T, ox, 63-4. See Gustave L. Van^Roos- broeck, Diderot s Earliest Publication; MLN, xxxrx (1924), 504~5- The identification of Baculard d Arnaud is made by Venturi, Jeunesse, 41-2, 34? 34 2 -

5. Diderot, Corr., i, 29-30.

J" Herbert DieSmann, Diderot, membre honoraire de la Societe" d Antiquaires d Ecosse Cahiers Haut-Marnais, No. 24 (i* r trimcstre 195*), 25. F r a photograph of Diderot s dralt, see ibid. Supplement illustre.

8. See above, chap. 2, note 32. The pnW%<* were dated, respectively, 14 July, 14 Dec. and

19 Dec. 1742 (B.N., MSS, Fr. 21958, foil. 30-31, 81-2, 84).

9 . /0a/ rf Sgavans, August 1743, 45i~62; Sept. I745> 547-555 April 1746, 231-8, this

quotation, 238.

10 J>* Nouvelles Litttraires de Berlin, 21 Dec. 1773, Quoted by Tourneux, Diderot et Catherine II, 529. The translation comprised one volume of the five-volume (unauthorized) edition of Diderot s works published at London [Amsterdam 1 ] in 1773-

11. Mmc de Vandeul, xl. .

12. Cf. Venturi, Jeunesse, 46-71, 342-58; Pierre Hermand, Les Uees morales de Diderot (Paris,

1923), 50-63; Cru, 119-33; Pomrnier, Diderot avant Vincennes, 20-25.

13 Hippolyte BufTenoir, Les Portraits de Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Paris, 1913), i, 240, plate 48.

Diderot also gave a copy, with the flattering inscription Totum muneris hoc tui est, to^ a Mme de Sainte-Croix, of whom nothing else is known; for this facsimile, see Pierre Beres: Catalogue 48: Beaux Uvres anciens (Paris, [i95 I? l)> item II8 -

14 P. 200. On the Journal dc Trevoux, see Gustave Dumas, Histoire du Journal de Trevottx depuis 1701 jusqu en 1762 (Paris, 1936), passim, esp. 137, and Albert Gazes, Un Advcrsairc

de Diderot et des philosophes: Le P. Berthier, in Melanges offcrts . . . a M. Gustave Lanson (Paris, 1922), 235-49, esp. 239-40.

15. Journal des Sgavans, April 1746, 219.

16. Lopelmann, Der junge Diderot, 84, 100-101, 121-2, esp. remarks on the skill of Diderot t translation.

17. Such, too, is the judgment, in a very perspicacious essay, of a former member of the French Academy (Charles de Remusat, Shaftesbury, RDM, 15 Nov. 1862, 475)-

1 8. A.-T., i, 1 6.

19. A.-T., i, 75. The importance of this passage has been emphasized by Venturi, Jeunesse^

355; by Pommier, Diderot avant Vincennes, 25; and by Mesnard, Le Caractere de Diderot,* Revue de la Mediterranee, vn, 283, who calls it 1e modele unique de la sensibilite.

20. A.-T., i, 25 n.

21. Jugcmens sur Quelques Outrages Nouveaux, vni (Avignon, 1745)? 86-7.

22. A.-T., i, 10.

23. Vcnturi, Jeunesse, 50; Hermand, Les Idees morales de Diderot, 56; John Morley, Diderot

and the Encyclopaedists, 2 vols. (London, 1878), i, 59-61.

24. Venturi, Jeunesse, 59-61.

25. A.-T., i, 32-6.

26. Venturi, Jeunesse, 359-63; Rene P. Legros, Diderot et Shaftesbury, MLR, xix (1924),

I 92-4-

27. Marcel, Le Frere de Diderot, 43-4. The brother was a student in canon law at Pans from

1744 (probably) until early 1747 (ibid. 43, 47). Succeeding editions of the translation of Shaftesbury were (i) Philosophic morale reduite a ses prindpes, ou Essai dc M. S.*** sur If merite et la vertu (Venice [Paris], 1751); (2) Les Oeuvres de Mylord Comtc de Shaftesbury, 3 vols. (Geneva, 1769), n, 3-166, but with no intimation that Diderot was the translator. The Shaftesbury Essai was included in all five of the eighteenth-century col lected editions of Diderot s works.


NOTES FOR PAGES 53-7 255

28. Mark Twain, A Majestic Literary Fossil/ Writings (Author s National Edition), rxi, 524-

38.

29. Bonnefon, 212. Cf. James Doolittle, Robert James, Diderot, and the Encyclopedic/ ULN,

LXXI (1956), 43I-4-

30. Registre des privileges accordes aux auteurs et libraires, 1742-1748* (B.N., MSS, Fr.

21958, fol. 262). The tide page is dated 1746, but the first volume was published shortly before October 1745 (Journal des Sgavans, Oct. 1745, 634); the second, promised for June 1746, was ready for distribution on n May of that year (Journal de Trevoux, July 1746, 1541). An Italian translation (Dizionario universde di medicina . . . tradotto dall originale inglese dai Signori Diderot, Eidous e Toussaint . . .) was published at Venice in 1753.

31. DNB, s.v. J 21 * 168 * Robert, M.D. In 1771 Diderot reviewed admiringly (but without knowing the identity of the author) the Histoire dc "Richard Savage, just translated into French by Le Tourneur (A.-T., ix, 451-2), but aside from these slight instances, no rela tionship between Diderot and Johnson is known.

32. Mme de Vandeul, xl.

33. Arrest de la cour du Parlement, qui ordonne qu un livrc intitule, Les Moeurs . . . sera lacere

& brule par I Executeur dc la Hautc-Justice (Paris: P.-G. Simon, 1748), mounted in B.N., MSS, Fr. 22176, foil. 258-9. Benedict XIV placed the book on the Index in 1757 (Franz Heinrich Reusch, Der Index der verbotenen Eucher, 2 vols. [Bonn, 1883-5], n, 873).

34. B.N., MSS, Nouv. acq. fr. 10783, fol. 124. See also Maurice Pellisson, Toussaint et le livrc

des "Moeurs",* Revolution frangaise, xxxrv (1898), 385-402; and Gustavc Charlicr, Un Encyclopedists a Bruxelles: Fr.-V. Toussaint, 1 auteur des "Moeurs", Annales Prince de Ligne, xvm (1937), 5-22.

35. Encyc. f I, xlij; Corr. litt. t vi, 391-2. See ibid, vr, 143-4, 285, 454 for notices of other

translations by Eidous.

36. Corr. litt., vn, 234.

37. Ibid. 308. For a similar judgment on Eidous, see 1 Abbe Sabatier de Castres, Les Trots

Siecles de la litterature jranqaise, 5th ed., 4 vols. (The Hague, 1778), n, 148.

38. Bibliotheque de 1 Arsenal: Archives de la Bastille 10301 (14 Feb. 1748). In 1749, Eidous

was reported to be thirty-six (B.N., MSS, Nouv. acq. fr. 10782, fol. 2).

39. Dieckmann, Inventaire, 3-4.

40. Baptism: Nauroy, Revolutionnaires, 244-5; cf. Diderot, Corr., i, 53. For the convulnonnaires , see Albert Mousset, L ttrange histoire des convulsionnaires de Saint-Uedard (Paris, 1953).

41. Bonnefon, 210.

42. Arrest de la cour du Parlement . . . Du 7. Juillet 1746 (Paris: P.-G. Simon, 1746), 2,

mounted in B.N., MSS, Fr. 22176, foil. 210-11.

43. Gustave Lanson, Questions diverses sur rhistoire de 1 esprit philosophiquc en France avant

1750, RHLF, xix (1912), 2-4.

44. Ira O. Wade, The Clandestine Organization and Diffusion of Philosophic Ideas in France from 1700 to 1750 (Princeton, 1938), 10-18, 166, 294, et passim.

45. Vcnturi, Jeunesse, 73-4.

46. See the reports of Bonin and Mme de La Marche during 1748 and 1749 (Bibliotheque de 1 Arsenal: Archives de la Bastille 10300-10302). Regarding the latter, see also Hugues de Montbas, La Litterature clandestine au XVIII e siecle, RDM, 15 July 1951, 326-7- For a comprehensive account of the administration of censorship, see David T. Pottinger, Censor ship in France during the Ancien Regime/ Boston Public Library Quarterly, vi (i954) 2342, 84101.

47. For bibliographical information regarding the Pensees philosophiques, see the critical edition,

ed. Robert Niklaus (Geneva, 1950), 47-63; also further information in Diderot, Lettre sur les aveuglcs, cd. Robert Niklaus (Geneva, 1951), ixvi. Regarding the German translation (Halle, 1748), see Joachim Abrahams, Diderot, franzosisch und deutsch, Romanische Forschungen, LI (1937)* 42-50, 387-

48. Mme de Vandeul, xlii. Taillefer, Tableau historique, iv, 263-4, says that Diderot wrote

it in four days.

49. Shaftesbury s influence was alleged by [Georges-P.-G. Policr de Bottens], Pensees chretiennes

miset en parallel^ ou en opposition, avec les Pensees philosophiques (Rouen, I747> 7; *


~~ NOTES FOR PAGES 58-63

also by the reviewer of the Pensees philosophiques writing in the Bibliotheque Raisonnee des Outrages des Savants de I Europe, XL (Jan.-March 1748), 112-23.

50. David Finch, La Critique philosophique de Pascal au XVIII* siecle (Philadelphia, 1940),

39-46; Morley, Diderot and the Encyclopaedists, i, 52.

51. Albert Monod, De Pascal a Chateaubriand: Les Defenseurs franfais du Christianisme de

1670 a 1802 (Paris, 1916), 304, 509.

52. The importance and novelty o Diderot s biological approach is well brought out by Aram Vartanian, From Deist to Atheist: Diderot s Philosophical Orientation, 1746-1749, Diderot Studies, i, 48-52. Cf. Lester G. Crocker, Pensee xix of Diderot, MLN, LXVII (1952), 433~9> and the ensuing controversy between Drs. Crocker, Vartanian, and James Doolitde, MLN,

3LXVIII (l953)j 282-8.

53. Robert Niklaus, Les Pensees Philosophiques de Diderot, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Manchester, xxvi (1941-2), 128; Guyot, 67.

54. For a bibliography of refutations of the Pensees philosophiques, see the Niklaus editions

(supra, note 47), 58-63 and Ixvi, resp.; also Robert Niklaus, Baron de Gaufridi s Refuta tion of Diderot s Penseef Philosophiques, RR, XLIII (1952), 87-95. The young Turgot wrote a criticism of the Pensees philosophiques (Turgot, Oeuvres, ed. Gustave Schelle,

5 vols. [Paris, 1913-23], i, 87-97). This remained in manuscript, however, and it is not certain just when it was written. Mention might also be made of Pierre-Louis-Claude Gin, DC la Religion, 4 vols. (Paris, 1778-9)? * *353 nl > P* rt iii, 103, 237-9, 253-4; ni, part iv, 54-5, 162-4, 203-4, 215-16, 227-8, 277-8; iv, 238. For summaries of the refutations of the Pensees, see Venturi, Jeunesse, 91-104, 363-7, and Monod, De Pascal a Chateaubriand, 304-8.

55. David-Renaud Boullier, in Lettre xn (i Feb. 1748), Le Controlleur du Parnasse, iv, 10; Polier de Bottens (supra, note 49), 8.

CHAPTER 5

1. A.-T., i, 269-70.

2. [Jacques-Andre Naigeon, ed.], Recueil philosophique, ou Melange de pieces sur la religion

6 la morale, 2 vols. (London [Amsterdam], 1770), r, 105-29; in A.-T., i, 261-73. Naigeon attributed this falsely to Vauvenargues (Recueil philosophique, n, 253), because Diderot was still alive, while Vauvenargues had died in 1747. This piece was in part inspired by Wollaston s The Religion of Nature Delineated (Lester G. Crocker, The Embattled Philosopher: A Biography of Denis Diderot [East Lansing (Mich.), 1954], 28).

3. So, too, thinks M. Pommier (Diderot avant Vincennes, 38n.); but cf. Venturi, Jeunesse, 72-3, 106-7.

4. A.-T., i, 270, 264, 272.

5. Although Naigeon declared in 1786 that Diderot wrote the Promenade du sceptique in

1749 (Massiet du Biest, Lettres inedites. . . . [supra, ch. 2, note 10], 4), all other authorities believe it to have been written in 1747. Wade, Clandestine Organization, 166, found a note in the library at Fecamp declaring that the Promenade was composed in 1747.

6. A.-T., i, 186-7.

7. Bonnefon, 202.

8. Nauroy, Revolutionnaires, 245.

9. Bonnefon, 203. Berryer was appointed Lieutenant-General of Police on 27 May 1747

(B.N., MSS, Fr. 22176, fol. 238). 10. A.-T., i, 192. n. A.-T., i, 215, 220.

12. A.-T., vi, 30.

13. See supra, ch. 4, note 21; Pommier, Diderot avant Vincennes, 412. Cf. A.-T., i, 15, 185.

14. A.-T., rv, 443-8. Cf. A.-T., n, 524-6. Leif Nedergaard, Notes sur certains ouvrages de Diderot/ Orbis Litterarum, vni (1950), 5.

15. Steel, Diderot s Imagery, 262-3; but cf. Venturi, Jeunesse, 108-10.

1 6. A.-T., i, 199.


NOTES FOR PAGES 63-8 257

17. A.-T., I, 212.

18. Vartanian, From Deist to Atheist, 1 Diderot Studies, i, 52-5, 60-61. Sec also the analysis

o the Promenade in Venturi, Jeunesse, 108-19; and Paul Vernicre, Spinoza et la pensee jrangaise avant la Revolution (Paris, 1954), 567-72; also Paul Verniere, cd., Oeuvres philosophiques, by Diderot (Paris, [1956]), x.

19. J. Delort, Histoire de la detention des philosophes et des gens de lettres a la Bastille t a

Vincennes, 3 vols. (Paris, 1829), n, 213 n. Concerning D Hemery, consult Ernest Coyecque, Inventaire de la Collection Anisson sur I histoire de rimprimerie et de la librairie, principale- ment a Paris, 2 vols. (Paris, 1900), x-li. Sec also Frederick Charles Green, Eighteenth- Century France (London, 1929), 205-8.

20. Bonnefon, 209.

21. Mmc de Vandeul, xlvi. Andre Billy, cd., Oeuvres, by Diderot (Paris: Nouvclle Revue

franc.aise, 1951 [ Bibliothequc dc la Pleiadc, No. 25]), 15, dates this in June 1747, but cites no authorities.

22. Naigeon, 142-3 nn. A manuscript copy of the Promenade was in Maleshcrbes library in

1789 (Wade, Clandestine Organization, 166); perhaps this was the confiscated manuscript itself. Cf. Venturi, Jeunessc, 171-4.

23. Naigeon to Vandeul, August 1786 (Massiet du Bicst, Lettres inedites . . . [supra, ch. 2,

note 10], 4).

24. A.-T., I, 248.

25. Nouvelle Biographic generale (Hoefer), s.v. Tuisicux, Philippc-Florent de, and Tuisicux,

Madeleine d Arsant de 1 ; see also J. dc Boisjoslin and G. Mosse, Quelques meneuses d hommes au XVIII e sieclc: Madame de Puysicux; Sophie Volland; Mesdames d Epinay ct d Houdetot, Nouvelle Revue, nouvelle serie, xxxrv (1905), 519-21. De Puisieux is men tioned in the Encyc., i, xlv, as having aided Diderot in the description of several of the arts.

26. A.-T., i, 25 n,

27. Madeleine d Arsant de Puisieux, Les Caracteres, Seconde Partic (London, 1751), ii; in print by 8 Feb. 1751 (Corr. litt., n, 29).

28. Mme de Vandeul, xlii. A police report on Diderot, evidently written in 1749 because it

gives his age as thirty-six, says, II cst marie ct a cu ccpcndant Mad e de Puysieux pour Maitresse pendant assez de terns (B.N., MSS, Nouv. acq. fr. 10781, fol. 146).

29. Mme dc Vandeul, xli.

30. RQH, 109; Diderot, Corr., i, 145.

31. Morley, Diderot and the Encyclopaedists, i, 42.

32. Mme de Puisieux, Conseih a une amie (n.p., 1749), vii x.

33. B.N., MSS, Nouv. acq. fr. 10783, fol. 51.

34. Corr. litt., I, 281.

35. Mme de Puisieux, Les Caracteres, Seconde Partie, iii, vi. Nevertheless, D Argenson remarked

that Les Caracteres was attributed in part to Diderot (D Argenson, vi, i82n.). A letter from [J.-N.] Moreau, 19 April 1750, presumably to the Lieutenant-General of Police, said that the work was attributed to Diderot, although appearing under a lady s name (Bi- bliotheque de 1 Arsenal: Archives de la Bastille, 10302). Le Petit Reservoir (Berlin [The Hague]), i (1750), 316-23, printed some Extraits du Livrc intitule; les Caractercs de Madame Puisieux, attribue a Mr. Diderot qui s en deffcnd.

36". Joseph de La Porte, Histoire litter air e des dames jran$oiscs t 5 vols. (Paris, 1769), v, 154. See also Sabatier de Castrcs, Les Trots Siecles, HI, 385-6; and Corr. ##* n 2 9> m 3 1 . viii, 17.

37. Marie-Jeanne Phlipon, Mme Roland, Uemoires, ed. Cl. Perroud, 2 vols. (Paris, 1905)* > 144-

38. Arthur M. Wilson, Unc Partie ineditc dc la lettrc de Diderot a Voltaire, le n juin I749/ RHLF, LI (1951), 259-

39. Mme de Vandeul, xlii. Canon Marcel believed that Mme Diderot s mother died about 1745

(Marcel, Le Mariage de Diderot, 9 n.).

40. Rousseau, cd. Hachette, viii, 246-7.

41. A.-T., i, 304-5; Georges Le Roy, La Psychologic de Condillac (Paris, I937> 92-3-

42. Le Roy, 102; cf. E. Vacherot, in Dictionnaire des sciences philosophiques, ed. Ad. Franck,

3d printing (Paris, 1885), s.v. Diderot, 388.


-g NOTES FOR PAGES 68-75

43. Dictionnaire de biographic franc.aise, ed. J. Balteau, M. Barroux, and M. Prevost (Paris,


44. ulTure i/FrOct. i 74 7, 92-109; in A.-T., rx, 156-67. The standard work on this subject (M.-D.-J. Engramclle, La Tonotechnie, ou I art de noter les cyhndres [Pans, 1775]) bears no evidence, however, of any influence of Diderot s ideas.

45. Encyc., xv, 96-7; ibid. Planches, v, s.v. Xuthcrie, planchc rv.

46. Gentleman s Magazine, xix (i749)> 339

47. Cf. A.-T., ix, 77 n.

48. Gentleman s Magazine, xix, 405.

49. Percy A. Scholes, The Oxford Companion to Music, 8th ed. (London, 1950), 553- Dr. Scholes does not, however, mention Diderot s project.

50 B-L de Muralt, Lettres sur les Anglois et les Francois (Bibliotheque dc la Revue de Littexature Compare, LXXXVI [Paris, 1933]), 168^171. These remarks were written not long before 1700, but not published until 1725 (ibid. 45),

51. Herbert Dieckmann, cd., Le Philosophe. Texts and Interpretation (Washington University Studies, New Series, Language and Literature, No. 18 [St. Louis, 1948]), 2-3 et passim. Voltaire declared that this work was de 1 annee 1730* (Wade, Clandestine Organization,

15).

52. Dieckmann, Le Philosophe, 32, 42, 40, 58.

53. Ibid. 68.

CHAPTER 6

1. Andre Cresson, Diderot: sa vie, son oeuvre (Paris, 1949)* 35-

2. For a good description of previous compendiums and works of reference, see Cm, 225-38. 3! Supplement to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 6 vols.

(Edinburgh, 1824), I, ii-iii. This work contains (i-ix) a good account of early encyclo pedias, including the one edited by Diderot.

4. Ibid. iv.

5. A.-T., xin, 132.

6. Diderot was commenting upon Duhamel de Monceau s Traite de la culture des terres suivant les principes de M. Tull (1750-61). Regarding this work, see T. H. Marshall, Jethro Tull and the "New Husbandry" of the Eighteenth Century,* Economic History Review, n (1929-30), 51-2.

7. A.-T., xrv, 456.

8. Venturi, Origini, 1112.

9. Lanson, Questions diverses . . . , RHLF, xix, 314. Regarding Ramsay, see Albert Cherel,

Un Aventurier religieux au XVIII 6 siecle: Andre-Michel Ramsay (Paris, 1926), 182; and esp. concerning his Masonic activities, the note by Depping in Biographic universelle (Michaud)> s.v. Ramsay, Andre-Michel de, as also Gustave Bord, La Franc-Mafonnerie en France des origines a 1815 (Paris, 1908), 62-8.

10. Diderot et I Encyclopedie: Exposition commemorative, cd. Georges Huard (Paris: Biblio

theque nationale, 1951), 18.

11. Lanson, Questions diverses . . . , RHLF, xix, 315-16; Albert Lantoine, Histoire de la Franc-Mofonnerie franfaise: La Fran c-Ma$onneric chez elle (Paris, 1925), 55 J Albert Lantoine, Le Rite ecossais ancien et accepts (Paris, 1930), 73; J. Emile Daruty, Recherches sur le rite ecossais ancien accepte (Paris, 1879), 85, 84-6 nn.; Bord, La Franc-Magonnerie, 121-3, 327-8. Lc Gras, 31, argued that the Le Breton involved was not Andre-Francois; but Louis-Philippe May, Note sur les origines mac.onniques de I Encyclopedie, Revue de Synthese, xvii (1939), 182-4, was inclined to think that it was Andre-Franc. ois Lc Breton after all; and recent researches seem to have established the fact (Jean Gigot, Promenade cncyclopedique,* Cahiers Haut-Marnais, No. 24 [i er trimestre 1951], 70 n.; and Jean Pommier, reviewing M. Gigot s article, RHLF, LI [1951], 378). Nevertheless, the question is not yet fully settled: sec G.-H. Luquet, ^Encyclopedic fut-ellc une entreprise maconnique? RHLF, LIV (1954), 29-31.

12. Bord, La Franc-Mafonnerie, xvii; also Le Gras, 21-2, 29-30; but cf. Pommier, RHLF, LI

(1950, 378.


NOTES FOR PAGES 75-8 359

13. Venturi, Origini, 130. Cf. Pierre Grosclaude, Un Audacieux Message: L Encyclopedie (Paris,

1951), 198-9; and Luquet, loc. cit., RHLF, LIV (1954), 23-31.

14. Memoire pour Andre-Francois Le Breton, . . . Contre Ic Sieur Jean Mills, se disant Gentil-

homme Anglais (Paris: Le Breton, 1745), 2.

15. 17 Feb. and 5 March 1745 (ibid. 2-3).

1 6. 25 Feb. 1745 (B.N., MSS, Fr. 21997, fol. 103: Registre des privileges et permissions simples de la librairie ). Action of 26 March 1745: Arrest du Conseil d Etat du Roy, rendu au sujet du privilege ci-devant accorde pour I impression de I ouvrage intitule, Dictionnaire universel des Arts & des Sciences. Du 28 Aout 1745 (Paris: Imprimerie royale, 1745), i, mounted in B.N., MSS, Fr. 22176, foil. 202-3. Action of 13 April 1745: Privilege de I EncyclopMie de Chambers. Du 13 avril 1745,* printed in Luneau de Boisjermain, Piece justificative No. in. The privilege of 13 April 1745 is listed in a manuscript Registre des privileges accordes aux auteurs et libraires, 1742-1748 (B.N., MSS, Fr. 21958, fol. 374).

17. The title page is reproduced by Douglas H. Gordon and Norman L. Torrey, The Censoring

of Diderot s Encyclopedic and the Re-established Text (New York, 1947), facing p. 10. The prospectus is printed in Luneau de Boisjermain, Piece justificative No. VL

1 8. Arrest . . . du 28 Aout 1745, 2.

19. Journal de Trevoux, May 1745, 934-9; this quotation p. 937. See the equally warm

remarks in Jugemens sur Quelques Outrages Nouveaux, vin (Avignon, 1745), 70-72.

20. Memoire pour Andre -Francois Le Breton, 6ff. Even so, Le Breton signed a new contract

with Mills on 7 July 1745, recognizing Mills s sole right in the enterprise; then, on 13 July, Mills retroceded to Le Breton one half of his rights (Arrest . . . du 28 Aout 1745, 1-2).

21. Sommaire pour le Sieur Jean Mills, Gentilhomme Anglois, contre le Sieur le Breton, libraire-imprimeur a Paris (Paris: Prault, 1745), reprinted in Luneau de Boisjermain, Piece justificative No. rv.

22. Memoire pour Andre-Francois Le Breton, 13.

23. Memoire pour les libraires associes a VEncy elope die, contre le Sieur Luneau de Boisjermain

(Paris: Le Breton, 1771), 3-4.

24. DNB, s.v. Mills, John (d. 1784?), which also says that Sellius died in 1787 in an insane

asylum at Charenton, near Paris. Mills was a co-translator of the Memoir es de Gatidence de Lucques (Paris, 1746), a Utopian novel by Simon Bcrington, The Memoirs of Signor Gaudentio di Lucca (London, 1737). It was said of Mills in Freron s publication, Lettres sur quelques ecrits de ce temps, vm (1753), 315, that il sgavoit mediocrement notrc langue. In the Avertissement to the second French edition (Amsterdam, 1753), Dupuy- Demportes, the French translator, refers to Miltz and says that he himself had to purger sa [Mills s] traduction des vices et des anglicismes qui lui echapperoient.*

25. Arrest . . . du 28 Aout 1745, 3. A manuscript volume of Rapports et Decisions, Librairie/

constituting vol. 80 of the Anisson-Duperron collection, gives the minutes of discussions having to do with the revocation of the old license and the granting of a new one (B.N., MSS, Fr. 22140, foil. 102, 104, 105, 109,. 112).

26. Jugemens sur Quelques Outrages Nouveaux, x, 106. This quotation was part of a lengthy

article (ibid, x, 105-15) regarding the prospectus of the James Dictionnaire universel de medecine.

27. May, 15-16. The contract was signed 18 Oct. 1745. Lc Breton kept a half -interest; each

of the others had one-sixth. One of the signed copies of this contract is in B.N., MSS, Nouv. acq. fr. 3347, foil. 196-8.

28. 14 Nov. 1745 (May, 17).

29. Renewal of the privilege, 26 [or 28?] Dec. 1745: B.N., MSS, Fr. 21997,^0!. 103. Docu

ment of 21 Jan. 1746, printed in Luneau de Boisjermain, Piece justificative No. vii. The renewal was entered in the books of the corporation of book publishers on 8 Feb. 1746 (B.N., MSS, Fr. 21958, foil. 471-2).

30. Memoire pour Andre-Francois Le Breton, 10.

31. B.N., MSS, Fr. 21958, fol. 262.

32. Diderot, Pensees philosophiqucs, ed. Niklaus, 48 n.

33- May, 32-3. In the second half of 1746 Diderot received a total of 1,323 livres (May,

33-5).


g NOTES FOR PAGES 78-84

34. Antoine-Nicolas dc Condorcct, Eloge dc M. 1 Abb* dc Gua, Oeuvres de Condorctt, 12 vols. (Paris, 1847-9), in, 248.

35. Venturi, Orfcww, 133. For another description, written about 1750, see Corr. Utt., i, 375.

36. May, 1 8.

37. May, 21, 19- e

38. Condorcet, Eloge de M. 1 Abbe dc Gua, Ocuvres, in, 247-8.

40" According to the Histoire de l f Academic Royale des Sciences ct Bellcs-Lettres, published (with separate pagination) in the Nouveaux Memoirs de I Academic Royale des Sciences ct Belles-Lettres, Annee MDCCLXX (Berlin, 1772), 52, the Abbe de Gua forma le premier cette grande entreprise. This Histoire was probably written by Formey, the permanent secretary of the Academy. Subsequent authorities agreeing with this view are Biographic universelle (Michaud), s.v. Gua de Halves ; Larousse, Grand Dictionnaire universe! du XIX 6 sieclc, s.v. Gua de Malves ; Maurice Tourneux in La Grande Encyclo pedic, xv, 1009, s.v. Encyclopedic ; May, 9 n. Douglas and Torrey, 11-12, believe that Diderot should be given the credit.

41. Condorcet, Eloge de M. 1 Abbe de Gua, Oeuvres, in, 248.

42. Naigeon, 45.

43. May, 21.

44. Ibid. Sometime before April 1748, Le Breton paid out 46 livres for a dinner given by the publishers for Diderot and D Alembert (ibid. 41).

45. George R. Havens, The Age of Ideas: From Reaction to Revolution in Eighteenth-Century France (New York, 1955)* 33-

46. Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Daguesseau, Causeries du lundi, ni, 426-7.

47. B.N., MSS, Fr. 21958, foil 828-9. The decision to grant a new license was taken on

14 March 1748 (B.N., MSS, Fr. 21997, foL 103).

48. For the texts of the 1746 and 1748 licenses, see Luneau de Boisjermain, Pieces justificative!

Nos. vn and vm.

49. Chretien-Guillaume Lamoignon de Malesherbes, Memoire sur la liberte de la presse (Paris,

1814), 89. Malesherbes is believed to have written this Memoire in 1790 (J.-P. Belin, Le Mouvement philosophise de 1748 a 1789 [Paris, 1913], 7). The principal biographer of D Aguesseau, Aime-Auguste Boullee, Histoire de la vie et des outrages du chancelier d Agucsseau, 2 vols. (Paris, 1835), n, 120-21, vaguely mentions the Chancellor s interest in Diderot, without substantiation.

50. B.N., MSS, Fr. 22191, fol. 22. This autograph note is reproduced in AUP, xxn ([Oct.]

1952), numero special, facing p. 72.

51. Maurice Tourneux, Un Factum inconnu de Diderot (Paris, 1901), 40; cf. D Alembert s

foreword to Vol. in of the Encyclopedic (Encyc., in, i).

CHAPTER 7

1. May, 44-5-

2. Early recruits, though there is no evidence that it was Diderot who recruited them, were

the Abbes Mallet and Yvon, who contributed articles on theology and ecclesiastical history (Venturi, Origini, 40, 136; cf. May, 40, 55). Sec D Alembert s obituary of Mallet (Encyc., vi, iii-v).

3. Mme de Vandeul, xlii.

4. As reported by the informer Bonin, 14 Feb. 1748 (Bibliothequc de l f Arsenal: Archives de

la Bastille 10301); also Durand s signed statement (Bonnefon, 210).

5. The Abbe de Voisenon, hostile to Diderot, remarks inaccurately that the Bijoux was Diderot s first work, and then says: . . . c est un vol qu il fit au Comte de Caylus, qui lui montra un manuscrit tire de la Bibliotheque du Roi . . . (Claude Henri de Fusee de Voisenon, Oeuvres complettes, 4 vols. [Paris, 1781], rv, 175). Cf. Guillaume Apollinaire, Fernand Fleuret, and Louis Perceau, UEnfer de la Bibliotheque nationale, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1913)* 2 3; and S. Paul Jones, A List of French Prose Fiction from 1700 to 1750 (New York, 1939), 94, s.v. Bernis.*


NOTES FOR PAGES 85-9 361

6. Cf. e.g. Pierre Trahard, Lcs Uaitres de la sensibilite francaise au XVIII siecle (1715-1789),

4 vols. (Paris, I93 I ~3) IJ > 161-3; Marie-Louise Dufrenoy, L Orient romanesque en France, 1704-1789, i vols. (Montreal, 1946-7), i, 112-17.

7. Sermons: Mme de Vandeul, xxxiii; nature of the soul: see comment by Vartanian, Diderot

and Descartes, 242-3.

8. A.-T., iv, 279-80 nn. See Belaval, L Esthetique sans paradoxe de Diderot, 36, 39-40; and

Havelock Ellis, Diderot/ The New Spirit, 4th ed. (Boston, 1926), 52.

9. Karl Rosenkranz, Diderot s Leben und Werf^e, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1866), I, 67, speaks of it

as ein Meisterstiick ; see also Paul Hazard, European Thought in the Eighteenth Century: From Montesquieu to Lessing (New Haven, 1954), 28-9.

10. Andre Gide, Journals, tr. and annotated by Justin O Brien, 4 vols. (New York, 1947-51),

n 349-

11. Henri Lefebvre, Diderot (Paris, 1949), 207.

12. A.-T., rv, 135.

13. B.N., MSS, Nouv. acq. fr. 1214, fol. in.

14. For the German translations, see Abrahams, Diderot, franzosisch und deutsch, Romanische

Forschungen, LI, 612, 387.

15. George Saintsbury, A History of the French Novel, 2 vols. (London, 1917-19), I, 403.

Saintsbury, in his French Literature and its Masters (New York, 1946), 249, refers to the Bijoux as Diderot s one hardly pardonable sin. Cf. John Garber Palachc, Four Novelists of the Old Regime (New York, 1926), 110-12. For good critical remarks by recent authors, sec Pommier, Diderot avant Vincennes, 59-72, and Venturi, Jeunesse, 123-

34-

1 6. Mesnard, Lc Caractere de Diderot, Revue- de la Mediterranee, vii, 278.

17. Rene Jasinski, Histoire de la litterature francaise, 2 vols. (Paris, 1947), n, 208.

1 8. Corr. litt., I, 139-40.

19. L. Charpentier, Lettres critiques, sur divers cents de nos jours contraires a la Religion & aux moeurs, 2 vols. (London, 1751), n, 22. See also Pierre Clement, Les Cinq Annees Litter aires, ou Nouvelles litteraires, etc., des annees 1748, 1749, 1750, *75i, ct 1752, 4 vols. (The Hague, 1754), 1, 26-30.

20. Naigeon, 37.

21. Venturi, Jeunesse, 134, 370.

22. A.-T., rv, 135. Cf. Roland Mortier, Lc Journal de Lecture de F.-M. Lcuchsenring (i775~

1779) et I esprit "philosophique", RLC, xxix (1955), 216.

23. Bibliotheque de 1 Arsenal, Archives de la Bastille 10301.

24. Pommier, Diderot avaiit Vincennes, 57-9, 7 2 ~7-

25. Bonnefon, 209, 216.

26. Printed in A.-T., rv, 381-441. See Venturi, Jeunesse, 138, and Dufrenoy, L Orient romanesque en France, 118-19.

27. Bonnefon, 212. The license to publish was granted on 10 May 1748 (B.N., MSS, Fr. 21958, fol. 837).

28. Bonnefon, 212.

29. Benin s report, 29 Jan. 1748 (Bibliotheque de 1 Arsenal: Archives de la Bastille

10301). Regarding the Lediard translation, Corr. litt., 11, 106-7; attribution to De Puisieux is in Catalogue generale des livres imprimes de la Bibliotheque nationale, xcn (1928), col. 366.

30. Bonnefon, 212.

31. Corr, litt., i, 202, 313.

32. B.N., MSS, Fr. 22157, fol. 31; published by David, Le Breton, and Durand.

33. See the cryptic allusion in the Avertissement des editeurs (Encyc., vi, i).

34. A.-T., DC, 75.

35. A.-T., ix, 79-80, also 81 and n., and Diderot, Corr., i, 55-6, 56-7 nn.; but Venturi,

Jeunesse, 341, is inclined to think that it was Mme de Puisieux who was meant. Diderot refers in Jacques le fataliste (A.-T., vi, 70-71) to the love affair of M. and Mme Premontval. It is probable that Diderot was well acquainted with them, and that he was present at some of the mathematical lectures given by Premontval from ca. 1737 to 1745- Cf, Andre- Pierre Lc Guay de Premontval, Memoir es (The Hague, 1749)1 cs


/- NOTES FOR PAGES 90-96

36. A.-T., ix, 77. The Uemoires were mentioned favorably but superficially by Cle"ment, Cinq

Annies Litteraires, i, 199-200 (20 April 1749)-

37. Journal des S?avans, Annee i749> 8.

38. /or7za/ dc Trevoux, April 1749, 620.

39. Mercure de France, Sept. 1748, 135-

J L^ Sbert &ocker [formerly Krakeur] and Raymond L. Krueger, The Marfiemarical Writings of Diderot, lot. noon (1941), **i cf. Gino Loria, Curve pun tpeaA, * vols.

(Milan, 1930), n, 125 n. 42 Julian Lowell Coolidge, TA* Mathematics of Great Amateurs (Oxford, 1949), i85- .

43. Dieudonne Thi^bault, Afo Sow*** dc vingt ans de sejour a Berlin, 3 d ed., 4 vols. (Pans,

44. AuSms S De 5 Morgan, A Budget cf Paradoxes (London, 1872), 250-51. De Morgan first

published his version in a letter to the Athenaeum, 31 Dec. 1867 (ibid. 474;-

45. E. T. Bell, Men of Mathematics (New York, I93?)> *47-

46* Lancelot Hogben, Mathematics for the Million (New York, 1937), i3-*4- 47 Bancroft H. Brown, The Euler-Diderot Anecdote, American Mathematical Monthly, XLIX fiQ42) 302-3; see also Dirk J. Struik, A Story concerning Euler and Diderot, Ists, xxxi (1939), 431-a; and R. J. Gillings, The So-called Euler-Diderot Incident/ American Mathematical Monthly, LXI (1954)* 77~ 8 - CHAPTER 8

i Premiere Lettre d un dtoyen zele t qui n est ni chirurgien ni medecin, A M. D. M. . . . Ou I on propose un moyen d appaiser les troubles qui divisent depms si long-terns, la medecine & la chirurgie. In the Bibliotheque Nationale copy of this exceedingly rare pamphlet, which is bound into a Recueil de pieces et memoires pour les maitres en Tart ct science de chirurgie, someone has written in on the title page that Monsieur D,M. is De Morand, i.e. Sauveur-Franc.ois Morand (1697-1773), a famous surgeon. Diderot s pamphlet is dated (p. 33) A Paris, 16 Decembre 1748- Reprinted in A.-T., ix, 213-23; cf. Dieckmann, Inventaire, 60, 129-30.

2. Dr. Raoul Baudet, La Socie te sous Louis XV: Medecins et philosophes, Conferencia, vol.

n for 1926-7, 136-41. Cf. Dr. A. Bigot, Diderot et la medecine, Cahiers Haut* Marnais, No. 24 (i er trimestre 1951), 42-3-

3. A.-T., ix, 217.

4. E.g., A.-T., ix, 240.

5. A.-T., n, 3 22 -

6. A.-T., ix, 223. .

7. Felix Rocquain, L Esprit revolutionnaire want la Revolution, 17 15-1789 (Paris, 1878),

126-33; Venturi, Jeunesse, 177-86.

8. Marcel Marion, Histoire finariciere de la France depuis 1715, 6 vols. (Paris, 1914-31), i,

9. Edmond-Jean-Franc.ois Barbier, Chronique de la Regence et du regne de Louis XV (1718-

1765), 8 vols. (Paris, 1885), iv, 378 n.

10. Claude-Carloman de Rulhiere, Oeuvres de Rulhiere, de I Academic francaise, 2 vols, (Paris,

1819), n, 15, 16, 24, 26.

11. D Argenson, vi, 403.

12. Bonnefon, 204; Beaurepaire, Les Logis de Diderot, Revue des Francais, xvn, 314.

13. Mmc de Vandeul, xliii.

14. Marcel, La Soeur de Diderot, 19; Marcel, Le Frere de Diderot, 70 n.

15. A.-T., xix, 423; the date of this note was 20 Sept. 1751 (Diderot et I Encyclopedie: Exposition

commemorative, 52). Similarly, see Diderot s elaborate note of thanks, 8 Jan. 1755, to Dr. d Aumont at Valence, who contributed 34 articles to the Encyclopedic (A.-T., xx, 87).

1 6. May, 44, 45.

17. A.-T., xin, 139. For withdrawals by Diderot between 1747 and 1751, see Diderot et I Encyclopedie: Exposition commemorative, 72-3; cf. A.-T., xm, 114 n.

1 8. Corr. litt. f i, 273.


NOTES FOR PAGES 96-105 363

19. D Argenson, vr, 10-11; Edmond- Jean-Francois Barbier, Journal historique et anecdotique

du regne de Louis XV, 4 vols. (Paris, 1847-56), in, 8890 this edition hereafter cited as Barbier, Journal/ See also Venturi, Jeunesse, 177-86, and Jean-Paul Belin, Le Commerce des livres prohibes a Paris de 1750 a 1789 (Paris, 1913), 93, 100.

20. D Argenson, vi, 15.

21. B.N., MSS, Nouv. acq. r. 10781, fol. 146; Bonnefon, 210.

22. A.-T., i, 279. Ibid, mistakenly reads aveugle-ne, whereas the original edition clearly states

Aveugle nee. The contemporary journalist, Pierre Clement, reported (Cinq Annees Ut ter air es, I, 229) that Reaumur admitted only a very few persons for the lifting of the bandage. Mme de Vandeul, xlii-xliii, says that Diderot was among those present.

23. Mme de Vandeul, xliii. Regarding M. and Mme Dupre dc Saint-Maur, sec Corr. lift., x, 518.

Concerning D Argenson, see Albert Bachman, Censorship in France from 1715 to 1750 (New York, I934)> 72-4*

24. A.-T., i, 307-

25. A.-T., i, 309-10; Lefebvre, Diderot, 104, no. Regarding Diderot s interest in the abnormal,

see Hermann Karl Weinert, Die Bedeutung des Abnormen in Diderots Wissenschaftslehre, Festgabe Ernst Gamillscheg (Tubingen, 1952), 228-44* esp. 233, 237. The publication of Benoit de Maillet s Telliamed (1748), with its elements of a transformistic theory, evi dently influenced Diderot (Vartanian, From Deist to Atheist, Diderot Studies, i, 59), as did also Buffon s Theorie de la Terre (1749) (Vartanian, Diderot and Descartes, 116).

26. Ernst Cassirer, Die Philosophic der Auftlarung (Tubingen, 1932), 144-5$.

28*. Gabriel Farrell, How the Blind Sec: What Is This "Sixth Sense"? Forum, xcvi (1936), 85. 29 Pierre Villey [-Desmeserets], A propos de la Lettre sur les Aveugles, Revue du Dix-huiticme

Siecle, i (1913), 410-33, especially 412, 421-2; also Pierre Villey [-Desmeserets], The

World of the Blind (New York, 1930)* * OI 180-83.

30. Journal de Trevoux, April 1749* 610. .

31. For complete bibliographical information, consult the critical edition of the Lettre sur Us

aveugles, ed. Niklaus, 103-11.

32. Voltaire, ed. Moland, xxxvn, 22-3.

33. Norman L. Torrey, Voltaire s Reaction to Diderot, PULA, L (1935), 1x07-43, but especially

1107, 1109, 1115.

74 Wilson, Une Partie inedite . . . , RHLF, LI, 259. 35 . Georg Brandes, Voltaire, 2 vols. (New York, 1930), n, 51- Mme du Chatelet died on 4

Sept. 1749* 36. Wilson, Une Partie inedite . . . ,* RHLF, LI, 259.

CHAPTER 9 generate du mouvement janseniste, 2 vols. (Paris, 1922), n, 2.



4 na, ,

6 "toM 4 : Wilson, -M- of Letters and M le ** in ^e Adnunis^ation of Cardinal

Fleury, American Historical Review, LX (1954-5). 55- 7. Bonnefon, 207; reproduced by Guyot, .8. facsimile by

8 -


Dulaure,

n, 327.

11. Mme de Vandeul, xliv.

12. Ibid, xliii-xliv.


e NOTES FOR PAGES 105-13

3 6 4

13- May, 53-4-

14. Bonnefon, 206.

15. Ibid. 206. 1 6. Ibid. 208.

17. Ibid. 208-9.

18. Ibid. 210.

in. Rousseau, cd. Hachcttc, vm, 248-9. See also D Argenson, vi, 34.

20 Lc Gras, 54; also Alphonse Seche and Jules Bertaut, Zfcfcn* (Pans, n.d.), 62. The same statement was made as a matter of general knowledge by G. Peignot, Dutonnav* cnttque, to*** miosraphitue des principal livres condamnts au feu ****** < 2 vols. (Paris, 1806), i, 103; also by Charles-Yves Cousin d Avallon, ^derotiana (Pans,


21


trr., i, 83-8. The concluding page of this letter, erroneously stated to be addressed to D Argenson, is reproduced facing p. 12 of AVP, xxn ([Oct.] 1952).

22 Bonnefon, 214; also in Diderot, Corr., i, 82-3.

2? Bonnefon, 215; a page from this letter reproduced in Guyot, 24.

24! Bonnefon 216. In November : 7 49 Le Breton was reimbursed or paying 3* ivrcs 8 sols to the treasurer of Vincennes (May, 54), P^haps for extras supplied to Diderot The chateau in question was the governor s lodgings, just to the north of the Samte-Chapellc m the Vincennes enclosure (Andre Billy, Diderot [Paris, 1932], I37>- It no longer exists.

25. 21 Aug. 1749 (Bonnefon, 217). (fr ,

26 La Bigarurcou Ueslange curieux, instruct^ ct amusant de nouvdlcs . . . , 20 vols^ (The Hague, 1749-53), , 61-2. This account is not, however, factually impeccable: it has Didero Ssoned in Ae Bastille; it declares on 30 Oct. I 7 49, that he is already liberated; and it states that Toussaint, author of Les Moeurs, had for long been a prisoner in Vincennes. Delort, Histoirc dc la detention dcs philosophy . . . , n, 216, would appear to have used La Bigarure as his source for his account of Diderot s imprisonment.

27. Mme de Vandeul, xliv; Naigeon, 131-3; Eusebe Salverte, Elogc philosophy de Denys Diderot (Paris, An ix [1800-1801], 96).

28 Dieckmann, Zftttiowr, 56, 1 14-17, Dubious about their being translated from memory. Diderot recalled in 1762 that while he was in die tower at Vincennes J avois un petit Platon dans ma pochc . . . (SV, n, 175 t 2 3 Sept. 1762])-

29. 30 Sept. 1749 (A.-T., xrx, 422-3).

30. May, 53.

31. Mme de Vandeui, xliv.

32. Bonnefon, 217-18.

33. Mme dc Vandeul, xlv.

34. Delort, Histoire dc la detention des philosophef . . . , n, 218.

Frantz Funck-Brentano, Legendes et archives de la Bastille (Paris, 1904), 153-

36! La Correspondance de I Abbe Trublet, ed. J. Jacquart (Paris, 1926), 10. Canon Marcel

mentioned having seen a manuscript news letter that devoted a page and a half to the

event (RQH, 102 n.).

37. Voltaire, ed. Moland, xxxvn, 36.

38. D Argenson, vi, 10-11, 26; Barbier, Journal, in, 89-90.

40! For instance^Grimm wrote on 15 Feb. 175? of Diderot seeing Fontenelle for the first time in his life & y a deux ou trois ans (Corr. lift., in, 345; italics mine).

41. Voltaire, ed. Moland, xxxvn, 38. , , , L * j j TVJ

42. RQH, 109, no, in. The money was to be paid by M. Foucou, who had befriended Diderot in 1736 (see supra, p. 29). For a meticulous transcription of this letter, together with a photograph of it, sec J.-G. Gigot, Sur une lettre du pere de Diderot a son fils, 1 Cahiers Haul- Marnais, No. 38 (3 trimestre 1954), 131-4* 138-40-

43. May, 52, 54.

44 . Delort, Histoire de la detention des philosophy . . . , n, 227; Du Chatelet s covering letter is dated simply Septembre* (ibid. 226); Bonnefon, 222-3.

45. Rousseau, cd. Hachette, vin, 247, 248.


NOTES FOR PAGES 113-18 365

46. Ibid. 249*

47. This version of the story seems to have been circulated sedulously in the late seventies,

when the enemies o Rousseau were apprehensively anticipating the publication of the Confessions (Alexis Francois, La Correspondance de J. J. Rousseau dans la querclle littcrairc du XVIII 6 siecle: Diderot et les Lettrcs a Malesherbes, RHLF, xxxm [1926], 357-8).

48. Jean-Franc.ois Marmontel, Memoir es d un pere pour servir a I instruction de ses enjants, 4

vols. (Paris, 1804), 11, 240-41.

49. J.-F. La Harpe, Lycee, ou cours de litterature ancienne et moderne, 15 vols. (Paris, 1816), xv, 238; Charles Colle, Correspondance inedite (Paris, 1864), 66-7; Corr. litt., xi, 285 (June 1776); Andre Morellet, Memoires inedits, 2 vols. (Paris, 1822), i, 119-20.

50. Mme de Vandeul, Ix.

51. Francois -Louis, Comte d Escherny, Melanges de litterature, d histoire, de morale et de phi losophic, 3 vols. (Paris, 1811), n, 39 n.

52. This controversy is admirably analyzed and summarized by George R. Havens, cd., Jean-

Jacques Rousseau: Discours sur les sciences et les arts (New York, 1946), 6-9, 21-3. See also his Diderot and the Composition of Rousseau s First Discourse, RR, xxx (1939), 369- 81; F. Vezinct, Rousseau ou Diderot? RHLF, xxxi (1924), 306-14, and republished, with some additions, in his Autour de Voltaire (Paris, 1925), 121-41; Lester Gilbert Crocker, Diderot s Influence on Rousseau s First Discours by Lester Gilbert Krakeur, PMLA, LII (1937), 398-404; Eugene Ritter, Le Programme du concours ouvcrt en 1749 par I Academie de Dijon, AJJR, xi (1916-17), 64-71. Cf. Albert Schinz, Etat present des travaux sur /.-/. Rousseau (New York, 1941), 171-2.

53. A.-T., in, 98, and in identical words in A.-T., n, 285. Diderot also gave exactly the same

account in 1773 or 1774 during one of his visits at The Hague (Philippe Godet, Madame de Charriere et ses amis . . . (1740-1805), 2 vols. [Geneva, 1906], I, 432).

54. Bonnefon, 219; also in A.-T., xni, in.

55. Bonnefon, 220-22; also A.-T., xm, in. Bonnefon states (p. 220) that the publishers got President Renault, author of the famous Abrege chronologique de Vhistoire de France, to present their petition to D Argenson. Perhaps this was what D Alembert had in mind when he wrote to Henault, ca. 1751: Diderot pensc la-dessus comme moi, et nous n oublierons jamais ni 1 un ni 1 autre ce que nous vous devons (Albert Tornezy, La Legende des philosophes* [Paris, 1911], 172).

56. A.-T., xm, 113.

57. Venturi, Origini, 55.

58. Bibliotheque de PArsenal: Archives de la Bastille 11671, fol. 20.

59. Rousseau, ed. Hachette, vm, 277 n.

60. Tourneux, Diderot et Catherine II, 442.

CHAPTER 10

1. A.-T., xm, 111-13 (7 Sept. 1749)-

2. Corr. litt., i, 475.

3. Lettre de M. Gervaise Holmes a Vauteur de la Lettre sur les aveugles, contenant Le

veritable recit des dernieres heures de Saounderson (Cambridge [Berlin], 1750). This was by Formey, the secretary of the Prussian Academy (Jean-Henri-Samuel Formey, Conseils pour former une bibliotheque peu nombrcusc, mais choisie, 3rd. cd. [Berlin, 17553. 7~

4. Bibliotheque Impartial, Jan.-Feb. 1750, 7^; this periodical was edited by Formey and printed at Leyden (Formey, Conseils pour former une bibliotheque, 118). See also Clement, Cinq Annees titteraires, i, 229-31, and Charpentier, Leitres Critiques, n, 101-28.

5. D Alembert to Cramer, 12 Feb. 1750, quoted by Tamizey de Larroque in Revue Critique

d Histoire et de JJtterature, vol. n for 1882, 478. /

6. Archives Nationals, Y I2 5 94J published by Emile Campardon, Les Prodigals dun fermier general (Paris, 1882), 119-21.

7. La Eigarure, i, 20-22,


gg NOTES FOR PAGES Il8~22

8. Ibid, xm, 58-61. . .

o Mme dc Vandeul, xivi; A.-T., i, Ixiv; Jal, Dictionnaire critique, 495; Diderot, Corr., i, 99. xo . Born 29 Oct. and baptized 30 Oct. 1750 (Diderot, Corr., i, 100); but according to bap tismal records copied by Nauroy, Revolutionnaires, 245, the dates were 29 and 30 Sept. 1750. Regarding the accident, Mme de Vandeul, xlvi; A.-T., i, Ixiv; but cf. Jal, Dictionnaire critique, 496, and Diderot, Corr., i, 100. f

ii Andre Gazes, Gri */ / Encyclopedist (Paris, 1933), 9? Joseph R. Smiley, DiArr**/ JteteVw wM Gr/mm (Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, xxxiv, No. 4 [Urbana, 1950]), 9-10. . .

12. Louis-J. Courtois, Notes critiques de chronologic rousseauiste, Melanges a histoirc lit-

teraire et de philologie oferts a M. Bernard Bouvier (Geneva, 1920), 120.

13. Joseph A. Vaeth, Tirant lo Blanch (New York, 1918), 5.

14. Archives Nationals, T 3I9 5 . .

15 Jeflerson to John Adams, Monticello, 8 April 1816 (Memoir, Correspondence, and Mis cellanies, from the Papers of Thomas person, ed. T. J. Randolph, 4 vols. [Boston, 1830], rv, 272).

16. Diderot to Grimm, 25 March 1781 (Dieckmann, Inventaire, 252).

17. Courtois, Chronologic, 59.

18. Rousseau, ed. Hachettc, vm, 258, 260.

19 Courtois, Chronologic/ 60; also George R. Havens, Rousseau s First Discourse and the Pensees philosophiques of Diderot, KR, xxxm (1942), 35^, and George R. Havens, ed., Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Discours sur les sciences et les arts, 30. The censors were opposed to letting the Discours be published, but Malesherbes overruled them (Belin, Le Mouve- ment philosophique de 1748 a 1789, 78).

20. Rousseau, ed. Hachette, vnr, 258.

21 Douglas H. Gordon s Extra Volume, fol. 678: . . . or en marge de la page i ere du pros- " pectus, il est ecrit de la main de 1 illustre M. Daguesseau, Bon D.G., Cette approbation est seule une preuve que les editeurs avoient satisfait aux Reglements.

4 On trouve encore ecrit sur un autre titre du-m&ne ouvrage, de la main du Commissaire du Roy pour la librairie, Permit d imprimer et afficher: ce n. 9* re *75- Signe Berryer. f

22. May, 24-5.

23. Encyc., i, in.; also Corr. litt., i, 486. BufTon wrote to Formey on 6 Dec. 1750,^6 projet

du Dictionnaire encyclopedique parait ici depuis quelques jours (Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, Correspondance inedite, ed. H. N. de BufTon, 2 vols. [Paris, 1860], I, 49-50).

24. May, 59.

35. Charles Braibant, Autour du Prospectus, Cahiers Haut-Marnais, No. 24 (i er trimestre

26. Herbert James Hunt, Logic and Linguistics. Diderot as "grammairien-philosophe , _ MLR,

xxxni (1938), 217, alluding to C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning.

27. Approval by the censor (B.N., MSS, Fr. 22138, fol. 22). D Hemery noted on 18 Feb. 1751

that the book was already published (B.N., MSS, Fr. 22156, fol. 33 V ).

28. Malesherbes, Memoire sur la liberte de la presse, 49~5o, 53> 56. Regarding tacit permissions,

see Comte de Montbas, La Republique des Lettres au XVIII 6 siecle et 1 avenement de la tolerance, Revue des Travaux de V Academic des Sciences Morales et Politiques, Annee I950. premier semestre, 50-51. For Diderot s opinion regarding them: A.-T., xvni, 66 et passim.

29. Cf. Ferdinand Brunetiere, La Direction de la Librairie sous M. de Malesherbes, RDM,

1 Feb. 1882, 580-81; and Bachman, Censorship in France from 77/5 to 1750, 146-53- As an example of a censor s report regarding a tacit permission, see the letter from De Cahusac to [Malesherbes], Paris ce 22 xbre 1751. . . . Je pense en efe qu avec les adoucissements que j y ai fait mettre, il peut etre susceptible, non d un privilege; Mais d une permission tacite* (B.N., MSS, Fr. 22137, fol. 49).

30. [Suzanne Necker, nee Curchod], Nouveaux Melanges extraits des manuscrits de Mme Nec\er,

2 vols. (Paris, An x [1801]), i, 255.


NOTES FOR PAGES 122-6 36?

31. A.-T., i, 353. Cf. Karl von Roretz, Diderots Weltanschauung, ihre Voraussetzungen, ihrc

Leitmotive (Vienna, 1914), 14, 16.

32. See George Sidney Brett, A History of Psychology, 3 vols. (London, 1921), n, 289.

33. Cf. Katharine Everett Gilbert and Helmut Kuhn, A History of Esthetics (New York,

I939)> 307- Diderot also anticipated some of the conclusions of Edmund Burke in his treatise On the Sublime and Beautiful (Dixon Wecter, Burke s Theory concerning Words, Images, and Emotion, PMLA, LV [1940], 177 n.). Cf. J.-J. Mayoux, Diderot and the Technique of Modern Literature, MLR, xxxi (1936), 528.

34. Otis E. Fellows and Norman L. Torrey, eds., Diderot Studies, i, ix-x. Cf. ibid. 94-121: Anne- Marie de Commaille, Diderot ct le symbole litteraire/ esp. 110-13; and particularly James Doolittle, Hieroglyph and Emblem in Diderot s Lettre sur les sourds et muets Diderot Studies, n, 148-67.

35. A.-T., i, 374-

36. Mayoux, Diderot and the Technique of Modern Literature, MLR, xxxr, 525-6; Hunt,

Diderot as "grammairien-philosophe", MLR f xxxm, 215-33; Margaret Gilman, The Poet according to Diderot, RR, xxxvii (1946), 41; Margaret Gilman, Imagination and Creation in Diderot/ Diderot Studies, n, 214-15; and Marlou Switten, Diderot s Theory of Language as the Medium of Literature, RR, XLIV (1953), 192, 196.

37. Jean Pommier, Diderot et le plaisir poetique/ Education Rationale, 23 June 1949, 2. Con

cerning prosody, Dupont de Nemours declared that Diderot la marquait, la declamait peut-etre un peu trop. . . . Chez Diderot, la prosodie etait un chant . . . (Turgot, Ocuvres, ed. Schelle, n, 704).

38. A.-T., i, 376.

39. Hunt, Diderot as "grammairien-philosophe Y MLR, xxxm, 215.

40. Corr. litt., n, 32, 67. For similar contemporary judgments, see Clement, Cinq Annees lit- teraires, in, 43-4, and Lessing, writing in Das Neueste aus dem Reiche des Witzes, June 1751 (Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Wtr\e, ed. Julius Petersen and Waldemar von Olshausen, 25 vols. [Berlin, (1925)], vin, 49).

41. Jean Pommier, Autour de la Lettre sur les sourds et muets, RHLF, LI (1951), 262-7, 2 7o-

71; Jean Pommier, Etudes sur Diderot/ RHPHGC, x (1942), 163. Batteux is said to have been much upset by Diderot s criticism (A.-T., xrv, 529 n.). Cf. Corr. litt., xn, 439.

42. B.N., MSS, Fr. 22156, fol. 70.

43. A.-T., v, 328.

44. Journal de Trevoux, April 1751, 841-63. Diderot s rejoinder: A.-T., i, 411-28. The Journal

de Trevoux amplified its remarks in its volume for July 1751, 1677-97. A very colorless review o the Lettre sur les sourds et muets appeared in Formey s Bibliothequc Impartiale, m (May-June 1751)* 409-1 7-

45. Ignacio de Luzan, Memorias litcrarias dc Paris (Madrid, I75 1 )* 282-3.

46. Journal de Trevoux, Jan. 1751, 188-9, 3 1 7- Still another article on the parallel is in the

issue for March 1751, 708-37.

47. Venturi, Origini, 113.

48. Lettre de M. Diderot au R. P. Berthier, Jesuite (n.p., 1751) [B.N., Imprimis, Z.n855l; and

in A.-T., xm, 165-8.

49. Clement, Cinq Annees Litteratres, m, 45.

50. Journal de Trevoux, i Feb. 1751, 57i- 2 577- .

51. Seconde Lettre de M. Diderot au JR. P. Berthier, Jesuite (n.p., 1751) [B.N., Impnmes, 2.11855 (2)]; and in A.-T., xm, 168-70-

52. B.N., MSS, Fr. 22156, fol. 25 v . According to the early nineteenth-century bibliographer,

A.-A. Barbier, D Alembert told an Abbe Goujet that it was he, using Diderot s name, who

had written the two letters to Berthier (J.-M. QueVard, Les Sufercheries litteratres

devoilees, 2nd cd., $ vols. [Paris, 1869-70], t, 937>-

Arthur M. Wilson, Un Billet inedit de Diderot, [1751], &*!*, LV (1955), 5^-7; but the editor, M. Pommier, cautions (p. 57 n.) that the letter Diderot refers to is quite likely

the Lettre sur les sourds et muets. 54. N.p, n.d. [Mazarmc, 14665*, pp. 304-6]- D Hemery s entry (B.K, MSS Fr 12156,

fol. 42^). Other pamphlets published at this time were Lettre de M. * *, lun des


gg NOTES FOR PAGES 127-33

XXIV a if. Diderot, Directeur de la Manufacture Encydoptdiquc (n.p., 1751) [Mazarine, 41774 piece 2]; and Lettre d un souscripteur pour le Dictionnaire Encyclopedique , a Monsieur Diderot (n.p., 1751) [Mazarine, 3 448i-A, piece 8]; cf. D Hemery s entry, 25 Feb. 1751 quoted in Venturi, Origini, 152. ,

55 A-T., i, 356-8; A.-T., iv, 202-3, 305J Encyc., in, 5"-", s.v. Clavecin oculaire ; see

Shelby T McCloy, French Inventions of the Eighteenth Century (Lexington [Ky,], 1952), 1 3 1-2- and esp Donald S. Schier, Louis Bertrand Cartel, Anti-Newtonian Scientist (Cedar Rapids* [Iowa], 1941), 135-96, 202. Also E. Noulet, Le Pere Castel et le "clavecin oculaire", Nouvelle NRF, I (1953). 553-9-

56 Cf. Erika von Erhardt-Siebold, Harmony of the Senses m English, German, and French

Romanticism, PMLA, XLVII (1932), 577-9*, P- 57; Erika von Erhardt-Siebold, Some Inventions of the Pre-Romantic Period and their Influence upon Literature, Enghsche Studies LXVI (1931-2), 347-63, csp. 355; Erika von Erhardt-Siebold, Synasthesien m der englischen Dichtung des 19. Jahrhunderts, Englische Studien, LIII (1919-20), 1-157,

57 A% 33 xrx^425- 3 6/biderot wrote again to Father Castel, 2 July 1751, in reply to his letter regarding the Lettre sur les sourds et muets (A.-T., xix, 426-7; original in B.N., MSS, Fr. 12763, fol. 222).

58. Venturi, Origini, 107.

59 A-T xix, 424. The diploma of membership was dated 4 March 1751 (Dieckmann, Inventaire, 162). La Bigarure, x (3 June 1751), 45, chronicled the fact of Diderot s mem bership and added, Quelques personnes ont paru etonnees que notre Academic des Qua- rante ne leur [Diderot and Toussaint] ait pas fait cet honneur . . .

do D Hemery s entry, 30 March 1753 (B.N., MSS, Fr. 22158, fol. 129). This was Naigeon s opinion also (Naigeon, 138-9). D Alembert became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1748 and De Jaucourt in 1756- , ,, . , ,

61. Formey, Conseils pour former une bibliothequc, 112; Histoire de I Acaderme Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres 1 (sep. pagination), Nouveaux Memoires de I Academic Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres, Annce MDCCLXX, 52.

62. May, 21-2. For a list of the articles by Formey used in the Encyclopedic, sec E. Marcu,

Un EncycIopediste oublie: Formey/ RHLF, LIII (ip53), 302-5.

63. Formey praised it highly in his Bibliotheque Impartial, m (Jan.-Feb. 1751), 306-7-

64. Cf. supra, n. 54. . .

65. BufTon to Formey, 6 Dec. 1750 (J. Matter, Lettres et pieces rare: ou inedites [Paris, 1846], 372); Venturi, Jeunesse, 399.

66. B.N., MSS, Nouv. acq. fr. 3345, fol. 144; the censor was Joseph-Marie-Franc.ois de Lassone.

67. Reponse signifiee de M. Luneau de Boisjermain, au Precis des libraires associes a ^impression

de I Encyclopedie (Paris, I77 2 ), 2; May, 25.

68. Corr, litt. t n, 73.

CHAPTER ii

1. F. Picavet, ed., Discours preliminaire de I Encyclopedie , by Jean Lc Rond d Alembcrt (Paris,

1929), Iviii-lix.

2. Encyc., I, xxxviij.

3. Ernesto Orrei, VEndclopedia e la Rivoluzione jrancese (Rome, 1946), 45-

4. Encyc-, I, ij. ... .

5. Marcel Hervier, Les Ecrivains frarifais juges par leurs contemporains, ii: Le dix-huitieme siecle (Paris, n.d.), 249-50; Corr. lift., n, 73.

6. See Rene Hubert, Les Sciences sociales dans I Encyclopedie (Paris, 1923), 142. This view is in disagreement with that of Nelly Noemie Schargo, History in the Encyclopedic (New York, 1947), passim; cf. also Nelly Schargo Hoyt, Methode et interpretation de Phistoire dans ^Encyclopedic, RHLF, LI (1951), 359~72. Although the Encyclopedic undeniably contains a host of references to past events, my own feeling is that Dr. Hoyt tries to make a rope out of a mosaic. As a recent historiographer has remarked, It is possible to be interested in history without having real historical-mindcdness, and it is beyond dispute that such was the case with the eighteenth-century historians (R.N. Stromberg,


NOTES FOR PAGES 133-4! /-

History in the Eighteenth Century, JHl, xn [1951], 297). In further defense of my point of View, see Lynn Thorndike, L Encyclop^die and the History of Science, Isis, vi (1924), 367-71; Emue Faguet yEncyclopedie, RDM. 15 Feb. 1901, 803, 814; Benedetto Croce History as the Story of Liberty (New York, 1941), 70; R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (Oxford, 1946), 7 7, 80; Herbert J. Mullcr, The Uses of the Past (New York 1952), 280; and David Easton, The Political System (New York 1953) n

7. J. B. Bury, The Idea of Progress (London, 1920), 171.

8. Encyc., i, xxxvj.

9. Annee Utteraire, vol. vi for 1757, 302-3.

10. Encyc., i, xviij.

11. A.-T., xm, 388. For instances of Diderot s debt to Girard, see Pierre Hcrmand, Sur le

texte de Diderot ct sur les sources de quelqucs passages de ses Oeuvres, RHLF, xxn (1915), 363-

12. A.-T., xm, 138; Encyc., i, xij, virj.

13. Encyc. , i, xlj.

14. See David J. Brandenburg, Agriculture in the Encyclopedic: An Essay in French Intellectual History/ Agricultural History, xxrv (1950), 96-108. Though ostensibly conventional (Brandenburg, 99-100), Diderot s ideas on rotation of crops were in reality very revolu tionary, for they necessitated a fundamental change in property holding (Lcfebvre, Diderot, 1419).

15. Memoirs of Baron de Tott. Containing the State of the Turkish Empire and the Crimea,

during the Late War with Russia, 2 vols. (London, 1785), IT, 118. Pierre Surirey de Saint- Remy, a French general, published his Memoir es d artillerie in 1697. For further