A disputed legacy? The shadow of Renaudot vs. Baile

Voltaire: Le siècle de Louis XIV., tome premier (1785, p. 136).

Friday n° 28, April 19th, 2019

 “Voltaire blaims him for having prevented Bayle’s dictionary from being printed in France. This is very natural in Voltaire and Voltaire’s followers; but it is a more serious objection to Renaudot, that, while his love of learning made him glad to correspond with learned Protestants, his cowardly bigotry prevented him from avowing the connection.”[1]

Chalmers’s general biographical Dictionary, vol. 26, 1816

Bad press, good press

As it is Good Friday, I wanted to get this week’s post out early as an advance Easter surprise. Fittingly, this piece will cover an issue with a confessional nature. And as I until now managed to avoid big names in my study of forgetting quite well, I thought I’d deal with a rather well-known episode this time, because it was connected – at least by Alexander Chalmers’s (1759–1834) dictionary, as you just have read – to a quite big name also. In fact, to two of them: Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) and François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire (1694-1778). Until now, both have only appeared in the margins of my project – Bayle because he died before three of my protagonists, and Voltaire because there were no direct connections between him and my four scholars, although he was something of a contemporary to all of them. He was eight years old when Thomas Gale died, and 26 at the death of Eusèbe Renaudot.

And it is precisely Renaudot who is in the center of today’s issue, as the polemic between him and Pierre Bayle concerning the Dictionnaire historique et critique might have had an impact on his posthumous reputation. At least in Chalmer’s dictionary it left a mark in the entry concerning him. The question now is: What does that mean in the context of forgetting? Isn’t bad press always good press? Should the connection to a work as prominent as Bayle’s Dictionnaire not be sufficient to hold a name in circulation, let alone if supplicated by Voltaire? Well, let’s have a bit of a look at that.

What happened …

In 1697, Eusèbe Renaudot submitted a memoire concerning Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire on behalf of the court, because some Paris printers had applied for a royal printing privilege for a second edition of the book. Renaudot was called upon to examine whether there was anything suspicious in it; and he found enough things not to his liking that he advised against such an edition. Pierre Bayle, who already had been provided with a copy of the draft memoire by Pierre Jurieu, replied to Renaudot’s points, while Jurieu got the memoire printed.[2] In the meantime, Renaudot’s advise had been followed, and there had been no second French edition of the Dictionnaire historique et critique.

… and what was reported …

The entry on Renaudot in Chalmer’s The general biographical Dictionary I started from is closely modelled on French sources, however, most notably the entries on Renaudot in Jean-Pierre Niceron’s (1658–1738) Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres[3] and in the later edition of Le grand dictionnaire historique originally edited by Louis Moreri (1643–1680),[4] as he duly acknowledged. Now Le grand dictionnaire historique – ‘the Moreri’, how it was commonly called – itself had Chalmers relied on a third source also, but I’m going into this only a bit later. First, let’s check the dictionaries he made use of.

Niceron’s 43 volume series on illustrious scholars featured a rather large entry on Renaudot, which also covered the issue of the memoire. Niceron stressed that Renaudot had drawn it up at the explicit request of the minister, had found things against religion in it, and had advised against a reprint. The memoire had fallen into the hands of Jurieu, Bayle had been furious, but after a fierce polemic both contrahents – as was quite usual in the late 17th century Republic of Letters – were reconciled again, and Bayle did not comment on the whole thing in the second edition of the Dictionnaire printed outside of France.[5] So far, the story closely matches Chalmers’s depiction of the events, only that he skipped the happy ending. Moreri’s dictionary, which had been especially designed to champion Catholicism, skipped the whole episode however; the entry on Renaudot makes no mention of it.

… and how it evolved …

This already predicted a pattern to be followed throughout the paper trail Renaudot left in the dictionaries. Some of these dictionaries would mention it, others would not; and most of them – as was quite customary at the time – would not indicate their sources. Even Chalmers did not fully disclose his sources for his entry, for it is more than likely that he copied at least the Voltaire part from the predecessor dictionary to his work, the New and general biographical dictionary : containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons in every nation, particularly the British and Irish, from the earliest accounts of time to the present period, which appeared in London in eleven volumes from 1761 to 1762. The anonymous author of the Renaudot entry could, this time, draw upon a source which had not been yet available as Niceron and Moreri’s editors had compiled their entries: Voltaire’s Le siècle de Louis XIV., which had first been printed in 1751, and which the New and general biographical dictionary now cited: “Mr. Voltaire says that ‘he may be reproached with having prevented Bayle’s dictionary from being printed in France.’ [Siecle [sic] de Louis XIV. tom. II.] »[6] Much more than that Voltaire really had not said about the whole affair (see snippet above).[7]

This might explain while other dictionary entries up to 1800 did not say much more about it, if they said anything about the episode at all. Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts (1744–1810) kept silent about in his Siècles littéraires de la France,[8] although it would likely have been the best place to put it. In John Watkins’ An universal biographical and historical dictionary, nothing about it was said in the Renaudot entry,[9] but only in the entry on Bayle Watkins wrote:

“The same year he formed the plan of his celebrated dictionary, the first volume of which appeared in 1695, and was uncommonly well received, though some parts of it were attacked by M. Jurieu, and the abbé Renaudot. […] He [Baile] was undoubtedly a man of brilliant parts, and of an acute intellect; but his religious principles appear to have leaned towards infidelity.”[10]

John Watkins: An universal biographical and historical dictionary, London 1800

… and why it was told that way

Precisely this – that Bayle was in orthodox circles, Catholic as well as Protestant, still suspected of the most dreadful crime imaginable, atheism – might have been the case not to refer on Renaudot stopping a reprint of the Dictionnaire historique et critique which would have proliferated Bayle’s ungodly sentiments, or if, to refer to it in a rather neutral way. As Voltaire sometimes was suspected to be guilty of the same sin as Bayle, it might have seemed prudent not to refer to him as an authority in the matter also.

But shortly after 1800 this changed, at least for a while, and now one could read other entries in other dictionaries, as that on Renaudot of Thomas Morgan (n.d.) in the General biography, the 8th volume of which was printed in 1813, three years before Chalmer’s 26th volume went off the press in 1816, and which said: “It’s a circumstance which reflects no honour on his memory, that the unfavourable representations which he gave to the ministry, of Bayle’s “Dictionary”, were the means of preventing that work from being printed in France.”[11]

A shadow thrown on memory…

By now, suppressing Bayle had obviously become a stain on Renaudot’s memory. Morgan only did not elaborate upon how he came to that conclusion. But Chalmers did, and now it pays to have a look at the third of his sources, and that is Leonard Twell’s (+1742) The Live of the rev. and most learned Dr. Edward Pocock of the same year 1816 as the entry on Renaudot. To have a look at it means to read a – I am sorry to admit – really very long quote from this biography of the Oxford orientalist Edward Pococke (1604-1691), where Twell gave an account of the correspondence between Renaudot and Pococke in the preparation of Renaudot’s Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio[12]:

“In this epistle the writer professes a very high esteem for our author, desires the liberty of consulting him in all the doubts, that should occur in preparing the works above-mentioned, and promises, in return for this favour, to make a public acknowledgement of it, and to preserve a perpetual memory of the obligation. It is highly probable, that death prevented Dr. Pocock from giving any assistance to Renaudot in these designs; but I am sorry to say, that the treatment that learned person has given to the memory of our author has not been consistent with the expressions of respect for him, with which this letter abounds. For when he came to publish his Collection of Eastern Liturgies, forgetting his own professions, and the duty of a gentleman, a scholar, and, above all, of a Christian, he goes out of his way, in the end of his preface, to reproach him with a mistake, which, perhaps, was the only one which could be fastened upon his writings, though Renaudot, as above-mentioned, had, without good grounds, charged him with another; but the Abbot’s zeal against the Protestants got the better of his candour, and though he could treat the learned amongst them with civility in a private way, it was not, as it should seem, adviseable to observe such measures with them in the eye of the world.”[13]

Leonard Twell: The Live of the rev. and most learned Dr. Edward Pocock, 1816, pp. 339-340.

…or not?

The problem with Renaudot now became that he seemed to have been a model fanatic Catholic, dismissing protestant authors out of sheer bigotry regardless of their results, and that this was now used by Chalmers to explain why Renaudot had voted against Bayle: not for any scholarly reason but for blind (and most probably misguided) faith only. Fittingly, Chalmers had been the editor of Twell’s Life of Pocock. But the religious issue obviously only became pressing when it was used to throw a shadow on the memory of an English scholar – Pococke – and only then turned into something that could be used against Renaudot’s memory in return. At least theoretically. For obviously at least in the world of dictionaries this episode – although it was connected to famous persons, writings, and contained a juicy religious element – only spread in English-language ones, and only for a while, until the middle of the 19th century as I have been able to establish so far. In French-language dictionaries on the other hand, if the affair was reported, it was reported closely matching Niceron, and thus neutralized. But most of the time it was just left out altogether. So in this case bad press was not good press in the end, but no press after all; it failed to significantly boost Renaudot’s frequency of reference in any way. This might have been due to the complex entanglement of religion, language, and national sentiments at play here; but this is something I have to have a closer look at still.

Happy Easter!

[1] Anon: Renaudot (Eusebius), in: Alexander Chalmers (ed.): The general biographical Dictionary containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons, particularly the English and Irish, from the earliest accounts to the present time (32 vols.), vol. 26, London: J. Nichols 1812-1816, pp. 140-141.

[2] [Pierre Jurieu (ed.)], [Eusèbe Renaudot]: Jugement du public et particulierement de M. l’abbé Renaudot, sur le Dictionnaire critique du sr Bayle, Rotterdam : Acher 1697.  

[3] Anon: Eusebe Renaudot, in : Niceron, Jean-Pierre (ed.): Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres (43 vols.), vol. 12, Paris : 1733, pp. 25-41, and vol. 20, Paris: Briasson 1733, pp. 35.

[4] Anon: Renaudot (Eusebe), in: Moreri, Louis (Founder): Le grand dictionnaire historique ou Le mélange curieux de l’histoire sacrée et profane. Nouvelle et derniere édition revûe, corrigée et augmentée (6 vols.), vol. 5, Paris : Vincent 1732, pp. 481–482.

[5] Anon: Eusebe Renaudot, in : Niceron, Jean-Pierre (ed.): Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres (43 vols.), vol. 12, Paris : 1733, pp. 25-41 ; here p. 39-41.

[6] Anon: Renaudot (Eusebius), in: A New and general biographical dictionary: containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons in every nation, particularly the British and Irish, from the earliest accounts of time to the present period : wherein their remarkable actions or sufferings, their virtues, parts, and learning are accurately displayed : with a catalogue of their literary productions (11 vols.), London: Owen/Johnston 1761-1762, vol. 10, pp. 136-137; here p. 137.

[7] Jean-Jacques Tourneisen (ed.), Voltaire: Le siècle de Louis XIV. Tome premier (=Oeuvres completes de Voltaire. Tome vingtieme), Basel : Tourneisen 1785, p. 136.

[8] Anon: Renaudot, Eusebe, in: Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts (ed.): Les Siècles littéraires de la France, ou nouveau dictionnaire, historique, critique, et bibliographique, de tous les Ecrivains français, morts et vivans, jusqu’à a la fin du XVIIIe. Siècle (6 vols.), Paris: Des Essarts 1800-1803, vol. 5, pp. 372-374.  

[9] John Watkins: Renaudot (Eusebius), in: —: An universal biographical and historical dictionary. Containing a faithful account of the lives, actions, and characters, of the most eminent persons of all ages and all countries; also the revolutions of states, and the successions of sovereign princes, ancient and modern. Collected from the best Authorities, By John Watkins, A.M. L.L.D., London: Philipps 1800, p. [760].

[10] John Watkins: Bayle (Peter), in: Ibid., p. [136].

[11] Thomas Morgan: Renaudot, Eusebius, in: John Aikin, Thomas Morgan, William Johnston: General biography; or lives, critical and historical, of the most eminent persons of all ages, countries, conditions, and professions, arranged according to alphabetical order (10 vols.), London: Robinson 1799-1815, vol. 8, pp. 506-507; here p. 507.

[12] Eusèbe Renaudot (ed.): Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio : Adjunctae sunt Rubricae rituales ex variis codicibus Mss. collectae, & suis locis appositae (2 vols.), Paris: Coignard 1716.

[13] Leonard Twells: . The Live of the rev. and most learned Dr. Edward Pocock, in: Alexander Chalmers (ed.): The Lives of Dr. Edward Pocock, the celebrated orientalist, by Dr. Twells; of Dr. Zachary Pearce, bishop of Rochester, and of Dr. Thomas Newton, biship of Bristol, by themselves; and of the Rev. Philip Skelton, by Mr. Burdy, vol. 1, London: Rivington / Gilbert, 2 vols., 1816, pp. 1-356; here pp. 340-341.

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