Tag Archives: Controversies

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.

A Palmyra-shaped Dutch blind spot?

A short network animation of all references to Johannes Braun, Thomas Gale, Adrien Reland and Eusèbe Renaudot between 1750 and 1765 in from the Journal des Savants, the Philosophical Transactions and the Maandelyke uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt, as moving four-year averages. Mind that Reland provides the only link connecting the Boekzaal references to the JdS-PT references.

Saturday, February 9th, 2019, for Friday Nr. 18

I have been busy adding another journal to the dataset I briefly discussed here two weeks ago; this time, it’s the Maandelyke uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt taken from Hathi Trust again for a Dutch perspective to complement the British and the French already in there. In doing so, I noticed an absence that makes me wonder about its possible causes.

I already wrote here about how the rediscovery of Palmyra and the decipherment of the Palmyrene inscriptions played into my research question as it illuminates how references to structurally forgotten scholars can be used to improve one’s own standing in the Republic of Letters. Both Jean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716-1795) and John Swinton (1703-1777) had been building on research carried out, among others, the Dutch philologist Jacob Rhenferd (1654-1712) and two of my persons of interest, Eusèbe Renaudot (1646-1720) and Adrien Reland (1676-1718). Which meant that after a period of comparative absence those names, for a while, became current again as part of the discussion over the decipherment of Palmyrene. As I had already came across this discussion in both the Journal des Savants and the Philosophical Transactions, I would not have been surprised to find a similar increase in references to these names in the Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt also.

There was a significant increase in references to Adrien Reland in the Boekzaal in the 1750s and 1760s; but none to the other proponents of the debate. To make up for this, Johannes Braun (1628-1708), who had been almost completely absent from the former dataset, was mentioned much more frequently than I would have thought during this period.

Upon closer inspection, the respective entries reveal that – as it seems – the Palmyran debate just did not place in the Boekzaal. I cross-checked for references to Swinton and Barthélemy without connections to my protagonists but did not find anything related, either. Given the interest displayed by Dutch oriental scholars and philologists in Palmyrene following the first re-discovery of Palmyra for Europe’s Republic of Letters in the 1690s, that there should be no reaction at all to the second re-discovery in 1753 is a bit puzzling.

So I look around a bit and went through Delpher, the Dutch National Library catalogues, and the STCN, and found nothing much in connection. The only directly Palmyra-related Dutch publication in this time seems to have been a (pirated?) print of Joseph Jouve’s (1701-1758) 1758 novel “Histoire de Zénobie, impératrice de Palmyre” which went off Nicolas van Daalen’s press in Den Haag.  And that was not even in Dutch. Intra-textual references seem to have been as scarce, as far as Delpher is concerned (query results are here). My query only returned four publications during that time: one a geographical work set us as a fake travelogue – the first volume of Joseph de la Porte SJ’s (1714-1779) “Voyageur français”,[1] translated into Dutch as “De nieuwe reisiger; of Beschryving van de oude en nieuwe waerelt”, and the other three parts of a work of similar kind, the “Tafereel van Natuur en Konst” which appeared in 21 volumes between 1769 and 1784 in Amsterdam, a translation from an English model (volumes 1, 10, and the index volume 21).

The most curious of these is “De nieuwe reisiger”, as Jean-Jacques Barthélemy is indeed referenced in it as part of the description of Palmyra, but in a weird way.  After describing the ruins, the fictive letter-writer tells his fictive addressee “that it would be desirable that one or other scholar would try to discover the beginnings of this language, which is completely forgotten.*”[2] Added to this was a footnote indicated by the asterisk running “The abbé Barthélemy has not yet made this renowned discovery public, which justly had won him the respect of all the learned in Europe […]”.[3] Now de la Porte’s French original – which has the same passage –[4] was printed in Paris in 1765, while the fictive letter just quoted from is dated to 1736. And Barthélemy’s lecture at the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres was printed in Paris in 1754.[5] So while the fictive letter-writer in de la Porte’s text could not have known about Barthélemy’s discovery in 1736, both the French author and his Dutch translator could – and perhaps should – have known that this discovery was very public already in 1765.

Coupled with the absence references to the debate in contemporary Dutch-language literature (as far as I was able to make out so far) this points to that the issue, while being a scholarly polemic in France and Great Britain and well-covered in German learned journals,[6] seems not to have been of much interest to the Dutch public. The next reference to it in a publication in Dutch was made – again – in a travelogue, only this time a real one. When the Swedish Arabist and Oriental scholar Jacob Jonas Björnståhl (1731-1779) went on a rather prolonged Grand Tour through Western Europe and via the Mediterranean to the Near East, Istanbul, and Greece in 1767, he wrote letters to the Swedish publisher and librarian Carl Christoffer Gjörwell (1731-1811) who collected them. They went to print in a German edition in 1772, followed by a Dutch translation in 1779; the Swedish edition only was printed from 1780 on.

Now Björnståhl described (in the Dutch translation) in his “J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten“, volume one, in a letter from Marseille, 18 November 1770, how he met Jean-Jacques Barthélemy in Paris. He rated Barthélemy’s kindness towards other scholars “higher even than the new and grand discovery by which Mr. Barthélemy has made himself known to Europa, that one can recon from him, who was the first to teach Europe so, the time since when it is possible to read Phoenician and Palmyran inscriptions”.[7] As a curious by-note to this I may add that Björnståhl five years later, in a letter dated Oxford, 10 October 1775, reported that he had also met John Swinton: “I shall conclude my letter with Mr. Swinton. This man is, as is well known, famous for his writings concerning old, and foremost Phoenician inscriptions and coins, which can be found in the English Transactions.”[8] Björnståhl said nothing about Swinton’s role in the Palmyran inscriptions’ controversy.

Adding to these findings that the debate was framed by some of its actors as a struggle for national honour in claiming the first discovery, most of all by John Swinton himself who complained about being subject to attacks by French writers, and recognized as such by others, for instance the German learned journals, it might have fallen out of the Dutch learned discourse of the time because of this national framing which did not include Dutch elements – or, as was the case with Rhenferdt and Reland, not in prestigious roles.

Yet this did not cause a lack in references to especially Adrien Reland in the Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt during this time. Not only where such references there, they also pointed frequently to the same publication, his last major work “Palaestina ex monumentis veteris illustrata”, a two-volume description of the Holy Land as taken from classical sources; they only related to it in connection with other issues. So maybe the supra-national character of the Republic of Letters really was under stress from nationally framed discoursed below the surface already, and the Palmyran discussion might be a point to illustrate this.

[1] Joseph de la Porte: Le voyageur françois, ou La connoissance de l’ancien et du nouveau monde, T. 1, Paris : Vincent ; Moutard ; Cellot 1765.

[2] Joseph de la Porte: De nieuwe reisiger; of Beschryving van de oude en nieuwe waerelt, Uit het Fransch van den Abt de la Porte, Eerste Deel. Behelzende in sich Cyprus, Aleppo, Damascus, de berg Libanon, Palmyra, Egypten, de Barbarysche Staaten, Griekenland, en een gedeelte van Turkyen. Dordrecht: Abraham Blusse, 1766, pp. 58-59: “Het zol dan te wenschen zyn dat de een of andere geleerde trachte om de beginzelen van deze taal te ontdekken, die tans geheel vergeten zyn.*”

[3] Ibid: “*De Abt Barthelemy heeft deze beruchte entdekking nog niet gemeen gemaakt, die hem te recht de achting van alle geleerde in Europa verworven heeft; hy verdiende dezelve reets door zyne doorgronde geleertheit in de oudheden.”

[4] Cf. Joseph de la Porte: Le voyageur françois, ou La connoissance de l’ancien et du nouveau monde, T. 1, Paris : Vincent ; Moutard ; Cellot 1765, p. 80 : https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k102012t/f87.image.

[5] Jean-Jacques Barthélemy: Reflexions sur l’alphabet et sur la langue dont on se servait autrefois à Palmyre, Paris : Guerin et Delatour 1754.

[6] See for instance: Nova Acta Eruditorum, October 1757, pp. 625-630, and November 1757, pp. 671-678; Göttingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen 1754, August 24th; September 5th, pp. 927-928; October 17th, pp. 1066-1068; 1755, May 29th, pp. 588-589; 1756, June 10th, pp. 586-590; Neue Zeitungen von gelehrten Sachen 1755, Nr. 24, pp. 209-210; Nr. 27, pp. 233-234.

[7] J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten. Eerste deel, Utrecht: G. van den Brink / Amsterdam: Wed. van Esveld en Holtrop, 1779, pp. 201-202: “Zulk eene vind ik al zo groot, en zelfs grooter, dan de nieuwe en groote ontdekkingen, wardoor de heer Barthelemy zig in the waereld zo bekend gemaakt heeft, dat men van hem, die het Europa Europa de eerste geleerd heeft, den tijd kan rékenen, waarin men in staat is, om Phénicische en Palmyreensche opschriften te kunnen lézen, waartoe men te voren niet eens het alphabet kende.”

[8] J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten. Deerde deel, Utrecht: G. van den Brink / Amsterdam: Wed. van Esveld en Holtrop, 1782, p. 268: “Ik zal mijnen brief met den heer Swinton eindigen. Deze man is, gelijk men weet, beroemd wégens zijne geschriften, de oude, inzonderheid de Phenicische, munten en opschriften betreffende, en die in de Engelsche Transactions te vinden zijn.“