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- The Eve of the French Revolution - 40/64 -


volume appearing every year. Seven volumes had now been published, bringing the work to the end of the letter G. The subscription list, originally consisting of less than two thousand names, had nearly doubled. But the forces of conservatism rallied. In 1758 appeared Helvetius's book "De l'Esprit," of which an account will be given in the next chapter, and which shocked the feelings of many persons, even of the Philosophic school. Few things could, indeed, have made the Philosophers more unpopular than the publication by one of their own party of a very readable book, in which the attempt was made to push their favorite ideas to their last conclusions. This is a process which few abstract theories can bear, for the limitations of any statement are in fact essential parts of it. But human laziness so loves formulas, so hates distinctions, that extreme and unmodified expressions are seized with avidity by injudicious friends and exulting foes.

The feeling of indignation awakened in the public by the doctrines of Helvetius gave opportunity to the opponents of the "Encyclopaedia." That work was denounced to the Parliament of Paris, together with the book "De l'Esprit." The learned court promptly condemned the latter to the flames. The great compilation, on the other hand, of which the volume of Helvetius was said to be a mere abridgment, was submitted to nine commissioners for examination, and further publication was suspended until they should report. While proceedings before the Parliament were still pending, the Council of State intervened, and the "Encyclopaedia" was arbitrarily interdicted, its privilege taken away, the sale of the volumes already printed, and the printing of any more, alike forbidden.

It is characteristic of the condition of things existing under the weak and vacillating government of Louis XV, that the interdict pronounced against the "Encyclopaedia" did not stop its printing. The editor and the publishers determined to prepare in private the ten volumes that were still unmade, and to launch them on the world at one time. To this work Diderot turned with boundless energy. D'Alembert, however, was discouraged, and retired from the undertaking. For six years Diderot labored on, never safe from interference on the part of the government, and managing a great enterprise, with its staff of contributors and its scores of workmen, while constantly liable to arrest and imprisonment. Diderot worked indefatigably also with his pen; writing articles on all sorts of subjects,--philosophy, arts, trades, and manufactures. To learn how things were made he visited workshops and handled tools, baffled at times by the jealousy and distrust of the workmen, who were afraid of his disclosing their secret processes, or of his giving information to the tax-gatherer.

The sharpest blow was yet to fall. The "Encyclopaedia" was issued by an association of publishers which paid Diderot a moderate salary for his services. Of these publishers one, named Le Breton, was the chief. He is said to have been a dull man, incapable of understanding any work of literature. It was his maxim that literary men labor for glory, and publishers for pay, and consequently he divided the income of the "Encyclopaedia" into two parts, giving to Diderot the glory, the danger, and the persecution, and reserving the money for himself and his partners. From his position in Paris he felt sure of being able to foresee any new order launched against the "Encyclopaedia" while the printing was in progress, and of providing against it. But the time of publication was likely to be marked by a new storm. Under these circumstances Le Breton resorted to a trick. After Diderot had read the last proof of every sheet, the publisher and his foreman secretly took it in hand, erased and cut out all that seemed rash or calculated to excite the anger of religious or conservative people, and thus reduced many of the principal articles to fragments. Then, to make the wrong irremediable, they burned the manuscripts, and quietly proceeded with the printing. This process would seem to have been continued for more than a year. One day in 1764, when the time of publication was drawing near, Diderot, having occasion to consult an article under the letter S, found it badly mutilated. Puzzled at first, he presently recognized the nature of the trick that had been played him. He turned to various parts of the book, to his own articles and to those of other writers, and found in many places the marks of the outrage. Diderot was in despair. His first thought was to throw up the undertaking and to announce the fraud to the public. The injury that would have been done to Le Breton's innocent partners, the danger of publishing the fact that the "Encyclopaedia" was still in process of printing,--a fact of which the officers of the government had only personal and not official knowledge,--determined him to go on with the publication. It may be that Le Breton's changes had been less extensive than Diderot, in his first excitement on making the discovery, had been led to believe. In examining the "Encyclopaedia" no alteration of tone is observable between the first seven and the subsequent volumes; and Grimm, to whom we owe the story, acknowledges that none of the authors engaged with Diderot in the work complained or even noticed that their articles had been altered.

In 1765 the ten volumes which completed the alphabet (making seventeen of this part of the work) were delivered to the subscribers. As a precautionary measure, those for foreign countries were sent out first, then those for the provinces, and lastly those for Paris. The eleven volumes of plates were not published until 1772. A supplement of four volumes of text and one of plates appeared in 1776 and 1777, and three years later a table of contents in two volumes.[Footnote: Several volumes of the original edition have the imprint of Neufchatel, and the supplement has that of Amsterdam, although all were actually printed in Paris. The _Encyclopaedia_ was reprinted as a whole at Geneva and at Lausanne. Editions also appeared at Leghorn and at Lucca; besides volumes of selections and abbreviations. Morley, _Diderot_, i. 169. For the _Encyclopaedia_, see Morley, _Diderot_, _passim._ Soberer, _Diderot_; the correspondence of D'Alembert and Voltaire in the works of the latter. Diderot, _Mémoires_, i. 431 (Nov. 10, 1760). Grimm, vii. 44, and especially ix. 203-217, an excellent article. Barbier, v. 159, 169; vii. 125, 138, 141; also in the work itself the word _Encyclopédie_ in vol. v. Mr. Morley thinks that the article _Genève_, in vol. vii. of the _Encyclopaedia_, especially excited the church and the Parliament to desire its suppression. The same article drew from Rousseau his letter to D'Alembert on the theatre at Geneva, which marks the separation between Rousseau and the Philosophers. But in the _Discours préliminaire_ D'Alembert had attacked Rousseau's _First Discourse_. For the excitement caused at Geneva by the article, see Voltaire, lvii. 438 (Voltaire to D'Alembert, Jan. 8, 1758). It is perhaps superfluous to remark that Grimm's account of the character and ideas of Le Breton, which has been followed above, is probably not unbiased.]

What was the great book whose history was so full of vicissitudes? Why did the French government, the church, and the literary world so excite themselves about a dictionary? The "Encyclopaedia" had in fact two functions; it was a repository of information and a polemical writing. Condorcet has thus stated the purpose of the book. Diderot, he says, "intended to bring together in a dictionary all that had been discovered in the sciences, what was known of the productions of the globe, the details of the arts which men have invented, the principles of morals, those of legislation, the laws which govern society, the metaphysics of language and the rules of grammar, the analysis of our faculties, and even the history of our opinions."[Footnote: D'Alembert, _Oeuvres_, i. 79 (_Éloge par Condorcet_).] So comprehensive a scheme was not without danger to those classes which claimed an exclusive right to direct men's minds. As for the double nature of the book, we have the words of two of the men most concerned in its preparation. First there is an anecdote by Voltaire, certainly inaccurate, probably quite imaginary, but setting forth most clearly one cause of the interest which the "Encyclopaedia" excited.

"A servant of Louis XV. has told me that one day when the king his master was supping at Trianon with a small party, the conversation turned on shooting and then on gunpowder. Somebody said that the best powder was made of equal parts of saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal. The Duke of La Vallière, better informed, maintained that for cannon the proper proportion was one part of sulphur, one of charcoal, and five of well-filtered, well-evaporated, and well-crystallized saltpetre.

"`It is absurd,' said the Duke of Nivernois, `that we should amuse ourselves every day with killing partridges in the park of Versailles, and sometimes with killing men or getting ourselves killed on the frontier, and not know exactly what we kill with.'

"`Alas! we are in the same state about all things in the world,' answered Madame de Pompadour. `I don't know of what the rouge is composed that I put on my cheeks, and I should be much puzzled to say how my stockings are made.'

"`It is a pity,' then said the Duke of La Vallière, `that His Majesty should have confiscated our encyclopaedic dictionaries, which cost us a hundred pistoles apiece. We should soon find in them the answers to all our questions.'

"The king justified his confiscation. He had been warned that the twenty-one volumes in folio, that were to be found on all the ladies' dressing-tables, were the most dangerous thing in the world for the French monarchy; and he wished to see for himself if that were true before he allowed the book to be read. After supper he sent for a copy, by three servants of his bed-chamber, each of whom brought in seven volumes, with a good deal of difficulty.

"They saw, in the article on gunpowder, that the Duke of La Vallière was right. Madame de Pompadour soon learned the difference between the old-fashioned Spanish rouge, with which the ladies of Madrid colored their cheeks, and the rouge of the ladies of Paris. She learned that the Greek and Roman ladies were painted with the purple that came from the murex, and consequently that our scarlet was the purple of the ancients; that there was more saffron in the Spanish rouge and more cochineal in the French.

"She saw how her stockings were made on the loom, and the machine used for the purpose filled her with astonishment. `Oh, what a fine book, sir!' she cried. `Have you confiscated this store-house of all useful things in order to own it alone, and to be the only wise man in your kingdom?'

"They all threw themselves upon the volumes, like the daughters of Lycomedes on the jewels of Ulysses. Each found at once whatever he sought. Those that had lawsuits on hand were surprised to find the decision of their cases. The king read all the rights of his crown. 'But, really,' said he, `I don't know why they spoke so ill of this book.'

"`Do you not see, sir,' said the Duke of Nivernois, `that it is because it is very good? People do not attack poor and flat things of any kind. When the women try to make a new-comer appear ridiculous, she is sure to be prettier than they are.'

"All this time they were turning over the pages, and the Count of C---- said aloud, `Sir, you are too happy that men should have been found in your reign able to know all the arts and to transmit them to posterity. Everything is here, from the way of making a pin to that of casting and of aiming your cannon; from the infinitesimal to the infinite. Thank God for having given birth in your kingdom to men who have thus served the whole world. Other nations are obliged to buy the "Encyclopaedia," or to imitate it. Take all I have, if you like, but give me back my "Encyclopaedia."'

"`But they say,' rejoined the king, `that this necessary and admirable


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