Tag Archives: Louis-Charles Solvet

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.

Something like a parable

Friday No. 6, November 9th, 2018

Fairy tale time! Today I will tell you a strange story of a man who survived all revolutions, of how he did so, what this has to do with my topic of structural forgetting, and whether there is a moral at the end of this story (or not). Only that this time, the story is real.

Revolution No. 1

The protagonist of this tale was a Frenchman – that’s one of the reasons that took me to Paris these days – and went by the name of Louis-Charles Solvet, born in Paris on the 6th Brumaire of the Year IV, or on October 28th, 1795, as you would rather have it. He was the son of Pierre-Louis Solvet (1772–1847), bookseller, and Anne Marie Charlotte Lemoine.[1] In 1812 the young Louis-Charles joined Bonaparte’s imperial army, and until 1813 advanced into a regiment of the imperial guards. In 1814 he quitted service, apparently just in time to survive his first revolution (the guards may not surrender, but quitting seems to have been alright). He began to work as a private secretary, until in 1827 he was able to get a job in the royal French administration. Solvet entered the service of the king as a lawyer at the royal court, and in 1829 had advanced to the post of secretary general of the departement of Oise.

Revolution No. 2

The revolution of 1830 may have cost him his job, but fortunately nothing else besides, as it seems. In any case he felt the need to explain about this first demission from state service in the reports in his personnel record file. Some reports signed by Solvet state as reasons for him resigning “The revolution of 1830 and [that I was] my duty’s lover, what has happened not so rarely.”[2] In other versions, the explicit reference to the revolution of 1830 is dropped, and he only stated “[That I was] my duty’s lover, what has happened not so rarely amidst great changes.”[3] Having however survived his second revolution, he just applied again for a post in the state administration, and obviously got one, for in 1832 he was deputy crown prosecutor in Vassy, and in 1834 in Soissons. So his ‘love of duty’ might well have been a move to explain why he had changed coats so quickly. But there must have been more than a grain of truth in it also; he never married, and his superior’s assessments stated things like “zeal: tireless.”[4]

Assessments from Solvet’s personal file, 1861

Did I mention forgetting?

So far, so good, and a not unremarkable career that Louis-Charles Solvet had already made at that point, being 39 years old by now. But there has not much been about forgotten scholars in the story so far, and I promised there would be. And in indeed there was a connection between the learning which had been produced by the likes of Reland, Braun, Gale, and Renaudot, and the life and times of Solvet. During the 1820s, when he was still a private secretary, Solvet had studied in Paris, graduating in 1827. He had turned his attention not only to law but also to a subject somewhat fashionable at the time, namely Arabic. Obviously he was quite talented, for having studied under Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy (1758–1838) he had not only passed his exams with distinctions but a bit later, in 1829, also published a collected translation of Arabic sources which won some critical acclaim. With this work, entitled “Instituts du droit mahométan sur la guerre avec les infidèles”, ‘Institutions of Muslim law for the war against the unbelievers”, Louis-Charles Solvet had not only joined his two fields of interest. He also had commended himself for higher posts, as one French observer put it.[5] He really had, and his publication directly pinpoints for which kind of posts. When the French holdings secured on the North African coast in the wake of the first French intervention in Algier in 1830 were administratively restructured in 1834, Solvet successfully applied to be posted there. He was appointed judge for the French North African possessions.

Colonial aspirations

In Algier he settled into French colonial society, only that Algeria at this time still was no French colony. France only commanded some outposts. But some of the French in Algeria, as, for instance, a certain Louis-Charles Solvet, saw it as their mission to change this. In 1838 Solvet was listed on the title page of one of his publications as vice-president of the “Scociéte coloniale” of Algiers,[6] a position in which he campaigned for a more thorough French grip on the land. In the same year of 1838, he finally published a second translation, this time from Latin to French: An edition of Adrien Relands “De jure militari mohammedanorum contra christianos bellum gerendum”, which had been published among Relands collected dissertations in 1708.[7] Solvet’s version went as “Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte” from the government’s press in Algiers, something official permission by the minister of war was necessary for. Solvet had applied for this successfully in 1837,[8] as his translation was intended to be something like a manual for French soldiers, to mentally arm them for the coming colonial war that French expansionists envisioned. They should know what to expect from a Muslim enemy.[9] Whether Reland’s very scholarly and sober philological commentary on Muslim legal provisions for the jihad might have actually been of any help in this case I would consider as highly doubtful. 

Revolution No. 3

But Solvet not only claimed that in a situation such as his – and the French in general – in a foreign country faced with potentially enemy Muslims Reland’s commentary quite naturally resurged from his memory.[10] It really might have been yet one more stepping stone for his administrative career afterwards. For when in 1840 the war that Solvet longed for finally started, he in the wake rose to the post of counsellor at the royal court (in 1842). A position in which he, perhaps not too surprisingly given his former luck in such circumstances, survived his third revolution, that of 1848. Though no longer a royal counsellor he still had his judicial post, and in 1850 was accepted as chevalier de la Legion d’honneur. It is not entirely clear why, because his file has not survived in the records of the Legion, but from his personnel file it seems that his long-time services in the colonial administration were the reason.[11] The family actually had a stroke of luck there, for his almost twenty-two years younger brother Jean-Alphonse Solvet (1817–1896) also was dubbed chevalier de la Legion d’honneur in 1880 for his services to the Paris magistrate as long-time secretaire général of the 7th arrondissement.[12]

Revolution No. 4 1/2 

But back to Louis-Charles Solvet: The coup d’etat of Louis Napoleon in 1852 – which was not really a revolution – he survived, too, only to become president of the chamber of the imperial court of Algiers in 1862. He died in Algiers in 1868, which but deprived him of his chance to finally also survive the fall of the Second Empire.

Did I mention my theses?

This is a story which seems to be a good proof for my general thesis that there is nothing like an innocent reference. If one refers to one’s predecessors, one does that for one’s own benefit, otherwise one would not do so. In the case of Solvet it is clearly visible how he applied his talents and crafts to make those references which fitted the social and political climate of the France of his times, allowing him to rise through all mutations of the French state to the rather high post he held in the end, and gratifying him with seeing his colonial visions fulfilled during his lifetime. It is highly probable that he had picked up his knowledge about Reland during his Arabic studies in 1820s Paris, most probably from his readings of George Sale’s (c.1696–1736) translation of the Coran, as he himself claimed later.[13] A couple of years later in North Africa, he took the opportunity to establish those connections between him and these scholars and their publications which would benefit him, and successfully so.

Solvet’s signature from his 1865 request to continue on his post.

The morale of it all (if there is one)

Now the point of the whole story is that notwithstanding all acclaims which his publications got during his lifetime, today Louis-Charles Solvet has plunged even deeper into oblivion than Reland whom he used to advance his career. Perhaps this became already visible in 1865, when his secretary Pierry filed two requests to the Keeper of Seals, the French minister of the interior, to elevate Solvet from his 3rd grade rank of Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur to the 2nd grade rank of Officier. Pierry explicitly mentioned Solvet’s scientific activities on a par with his contributions to the colonial administration. The superimposed note on the second request only reads: “Spoken with Mr. Lent. Respond negatively.”[14] And although I do have some ideas of why that would be so, I am not sure yet – and neither if there is a morale to the story or not. So feel free to decide that for yourself, and please keep me posted! I will.

[1] Archives Nationales, Paris, LH/2533/33, Dossier du Jean-Alphonse Solvet, p. 5.

[2] Archives Nationales, Paris BB/6 (II)/396, Ministère de la justice: Notice individuelle 1861, 1859, Etat des Services: „Cause de la cessation du service: revolution de 1830 et officii amator mei, ut non raro accidit.“

[3] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Ministère de la justice: Notice individuelle 1863, Etat des Services: „Cause de la cessation du service: Officii amator mei, ut non raro accidit magna rerum commutatione”, signed Ch. Solvet, Algiers, July 15th, 1863.

[4] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Ministère de la justice: Notice individuelle 1861, Renseignements confidentiels: “Zèle: infatigable.”

[5] G. T.: 10. Instituts du droit mahométan sur la guerre sainte avec les infidèles, ou Extraits du livre d’Abou-l-hoçain-Ahmed-elKodouri, et de celui de Séid-Ali-el-Hamadani, traduits de l’arabe en français; par Ch. SoLvet. In-8° de 4o p. Paris, 1829; Dondey-Dupré. in: Bulletin general et universel des annonces et des nouvelles scientifiques, publie sous la direction du baron de Ferussac, 13, 09/1829, pp. 11-12; p. 12.

[6] Solvet, Louis-Charles: Voyage à “la Rassauta” [en Algérie], lettre à M. A… député, Marseille 1838, title: “vice-président de la société coloniale d’Alger”.

[7] Reland, Adrien; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838; Reland, Adrien: Hadriani Relandi Dissertationum miscellanearum pars tertia, et ultima, Utrecht: Broedelet 1708.

[8] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Secretariat du Government des possessions francaises dans le nord de l’Afrique to the Minister of War, August 12th, 1837.

[9] Reland, Adrien; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838, p iii: “enfin qu’elle contribuerait à faire mieux comprendre les préjugés et le genie des peuples que nous avons a combattre.”

[10] Reland, Adrian; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838, p ii.

[11] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Extrait de la partie individuelle de Mr. Solvet, Conseiller à la cour d’appel de Alger, June 1850.

[12] Archives Nationales, Paris, LH/2533/33, Dossier du Jean-Alphonse Solvet, p. 7.

[13] Reland, Adrian; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838, p. ii.

[14] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Pierry to Mr. Garde du Sceaux, Algiers, December 12th, 1865.