Non-transitive reference patterns

Eusèbe Renaudot (ed., transl.): Anciennes relations des Indes et de la Chine, de deux voyageurs mahometans, Paris: Coignard 1718; title page.

Friday no. 20, February 22nd, 2019

In one of the earlier posts on this blog I said something about Louis-Charles Solvet (1795-1869) and his successful strategies of reference to Adrien Reland. One, and I would say the central, hypothesis that I built from the case of Solvet and his translation of the Dissertatio de jure militari Mohammedanorum contra Christianos bellum gerentium was that such strategies of a re-use of a dead scholar’s products and achievements against the grain of that scholar’s original intentions signal actual structural oblivion of the scholar in question, if they succeed. This dovetails quite nicely with the career and publications of Louis-Charles Solvet, I would say. But the risk incurred with this is of course that this may be a case of circular reasoning. Perhaps the Solvet case fits the hypothesis so nicely because the hypothesis was drawn up by it, and I just found what I wanted to find all along. So how might this be put to the test?

Test conditions and pre-test assumptions

As history does not repeat itself, I cannot just re-run Solvet’s career to see if other patterns would probably account for the same effects in the end as well. But I might look for similar cases, if possible by people from a shared background and trajectory, and look for discursive and structural interconnections – references to the same scholars and the same patterns of reference applied to similar scholars. The argument that I would like to make is that both are necessary to establish a convincing test case for the hypothesis framed around Solvet. If I do find that in a similar case, in similar circumstances, the patterns are transitive, i.e. if one matches, the other does match, too, this would indicate that structural oblivion is not the right term to put to the phenomenon. Because this would – generalized – have to be taken to mean that every scholar with similar background in similar circumstances would take recourse to the dead scholar in question in the same way. This in turn would mean that there was a shared knowledge about this scholar beforehand, and if this were the case, he or she would be structurally remembered rather than forgotten. If on the other hand I should find, that the patterns are not transitive, that is, if one matches, the other does not, structural oblivion becomes a lot more probable. But – and this is an important caveat to make – only in the case where there is structural but not discursive transitivity. If the reference pattern applied in a similar situation by a similar scholar is the same but targets another person and his or her achievements and/or publications, the divergence in dead scholars utilized might well point to the fact that they are, more or less, randomly selected from the reservoir of structurally forgotten elements of knowledge.

A test case: Joseph-Touissant Reinaud (1795-1867)

Joseph-Touissant Reinaud was born in Lambesc, between Avignon and Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, on December 4th, 1795, and destined for a clerical career. When in 1814 he was sent to Paris to broaden his education, he took to oriental languages with such fervour that he staid to study them under Silvestre de Sacy (1758–1838) instead of becoming a priest. As Solvet, who in 1814 quitted service with the Imperial Guards, Reinaud had dropped out of the career originally envisioned for him. Both now served for a while with private employers alongside their studies, Reinaud from 1818 to 1819 as secretary to the Comte de Portalis on a mission to the Holy See. After returning and completing his studies, his former employer helped him to gain a post at the Bibliothèque royale in 1824, three years earlier than Solvet, who entered the French provincial administration in 1827. Reinaud managed to continue on his librarian post despite all revolutionary upheavals in 19th century France and to continually rise within the system. In 1832, he was elected into the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and in March 1838 after de Sacy’s death followed him as professor of Arabic at the Ecole des langues orientales vivantes. From 1847 on he was president of the Société Asiatique, and in April 1864 elected as head of the Ecole des langues orientales vivantes; Solvet had been promoted to the post of Supreme Judge at the court of Algiers in 1862. Reinaud had, perhaps because of a career without the interruptions that Solvet had been subject to, managed to enter the more prestigious posts; he had already in 1836 been admitted into the Legion of Honour, 14 years before Solvet had been in 1850. In 1858 he was raised in rank to “Officier de la legion d’honneur”, the rank that Solvet had been denied in 1865. These honorary differences besides, both men seem to be quite comparable in respect to what I am interested in here. Both were trained in Arabic, excelled at their studies, were zealous in pursuit of their duties, turned to philological pursuits in their scholarly endeavours, and translated.

Now the interesting question is whether both men are comparable also in respect to their treatment of my forgotten scholars. Louis-Charles Solvet had translated Adrien Reland, but had never referred to Eusèbe Renaudot (as far as I know). So what about Joseph-Touissant Reinaud?

In 1845, Reinaud published a corrected, augmented and annotated re-edition of an 1811 translation of an early medieval Arabic manuscript, the “Relation des voyages faits par les Arabes et les Persans dans l’Inde et à la Chine“.[1] The 1811 edition itself was already a re-edition, as the manuscript in question had first been edited in 1718 as “Anciennes relations des Indes et de la Chine, de deux voyageurs mahometans” by Eusèbe Renaudot.[2] Reinaud clearly acknowledged that in his preface where he detailed the history of the edited text, where he stated the edition no longer conformed to “les progrès que la critique orientale a faits dans ces derniers temps” and had to be redone for the sake of science, correcting both translation and annotations to purge them of Renaudot’s leniencies.[3] The prime reason he brought forward for the importance of his re-edition was that he was convinced that the manuscript provided an early source for the story which over time had evolved into the story of Sindbad as incorporated in the Arabian Nights.[4] In doing so he situated his publication in the scholarly branch of the Orientalist discourse of the mid-19th century as firmly as Solvet had situated his Reland translation in its political branch. This catered to their respective career stations at the point of publication, with Solvet part of the French colonial administration in Algiers and Reinaud in the center of French Orientalist learning in Paris.

Passing the test?

In both cases publications were picked which were about 130 years old but could be adapted to contemporary issues quite easily, even if they became decontextualized from the oeuvre of the original author in the process, and both Reinaud and Solvet presented the original authors in the way which suited their aims best – Solvet praising Reland for use as an authority, and Reinaud downsizing Renaudot to claim scientific progress. The underlying pattern seems to be the same to me.

Now what about the cross-connections? These, and that is the interesting part of the story, really seem to be absent. Reinaud seems not to have mentioned Reland anywhere in his publications, even when he was working about topics where one might have expected it, as the religious history of Islam or the geography of the Near East. But while he refrained from referring to Reland, he owned his works. At least if the auction catalogue of his personal library can be trusted, among his possessions were Reland’s De religione mohammedica (2nd edition of 1717) and his Antiquitates sacrae veterum Hebraeorum (4th edition of 1741). That was one work more than he owned of Renaudot, of whom he only seems to have had the 1718 edition from which he started his translation.[5] So also this has been a rather quick walkthrough through the test I proposed, I would like to preliminary assume on this basis that my original hypothesis is sound, and both publications really testify to the original author’s being structurally forgotten at their time of publication. To be explored further!


[1] Joseph-Touissant Reinaud (ed., transl.) : Relation des voyages faits par les Arabes et les Persans dans l’Inde et à la Chine dans le IXe siècle de l’ère chrétienne. Texte arabe imprimé en 1811 par les soins de feu Langlès publié aves des corrections et additions et accompagné d’une traduction fran5aise et d’éclaircissements par M. Reinaud, Paris: Imprimerie royale 1845.

[2] Eusèbe Renaudot (ed., transl.): Anciennes relations des Indes et de la Chine, de deux voyageurs mahometans, qui y allerent dans le neuviéme siecle ; traduites d’arabe : avec des remarques sur les principaux endroits de ces relations, Paris: Coignard 1718.

[3] Reinaud (ed.), Relation des voyages 1845, p. v. ; p. xiii–xiv.

[4] Ibid., p. clxxx.

[5] Anon. : Catalogue des livres des manuscrits orientaux et des ouvrages en nombre composant la bibliothèque de feu M. J.-T. Reinaud. Membre de l’institut, officier de la légion d’honneur, conservateur des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque impériale, président de l’école des ll. oo. vv. de la sociéte asiatique, membre des académies de Vienne, de Berlin, de Saint-Pétersburg et de plusieurs autres sociétes savantes. Précéde d’une notice sur sa vie par M. J. Mohl, membre de l’Institut, Paris 1867, cf. pp. 13, 103, 131.


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