The great Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des métiers et des arts, (1751-65), edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert, was a landmark event of the French Enlightenement.
The Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert was not the first encyclopedia. Dictionaries consisting of reference articles on topics organized in alphabetical order had been around for a while, not only in France but also in England, Germany, Italy and elsewhere. There were dictionaries of language and etymology, historical dictionaries (e.g. Pierre Bayle's), scientific dictionaries, dictionaries of commerce (e.g. Savary's), dictionaries of crafts, dictionaries of art, etc. and a few dictionaries of everything (e.g. Moreri, Chambers). Indeed, there were so many that a "dictionary of dictionaries" came out in 1758! The mid-18th Century was gripped by a "mania" for dictionaries and publishers were eager to cash in on it.
In 1745, the Parisian publisher André Le Breton struck a deal with John Mills, an Englishman living in Paris, to produce a French translation of Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia or an Universal Dictionary of arts and sciences (which had been published in England in 1728). Mills, however, procrastinated, and a furious Le Breton eventually fired Mills (and beat him with a cane!). When Le Breton re-launched the project with new partners in 1746, it was adjusted to be not merely a straight translation of Chambers but rather a French "adaptation" of a universal dictionary of crafts and sciences from various sources. Le Breton hired the Abbé Gua de Malves as editor-in-chief, who brought on board several younger assistants, including the technically-gifted Jean le Rond d'Alembert, a very young Etienne Bonnot de Condillac and the experienced translator Denis Diderot. When Gua de Malves quit the project in October 1747, Le Breton asked Diderot and d'Alembert to lead the project themselves.
Diderot and d'Alembert threw themselves into the project. They undertook extensive research in the craft workshops of Paris, solicited their friends in the "republic of letters" to compose entries, purchased engravings and hired an illustrator (Groussier) to add more. But already at this stage, the project was endangered by Diderot's repeated scrapes with the authorities. A provocative free-thinker, Diderot's anonymous treatise, Pensées philosophiques, had already been condemned by the Parlement of Paris in July 1746. When Diderot put out a controversial essay on blindness in 1749, Diderot was arrested and thrown into prison in Vincennes for several months. Nonetheless, Diderot stayed with the project and in November 1750, Diderot and d'Alembert issued the final prospectus inviting subscriptions to the Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des métiers et des arts to be published by Le Breton in Paris. The prospectus originally envisaged it as ten volumes with an additional two volumes of plate illustrations.
Diderot's prospectus emphasized that the Encyclopédie would be unlike other dictionaries. It would not merely provide definitions, but also bring newly-discovered facts and fresh new perspectives, made possible by the revival of arts and sciences since the 17th C. It sought to collect all in one reference work. It was not to be a dictionary of arcane curiosities, or erudite definitions, nor a handbook for practitioners, but a plain-spoken, direct dictionary of arts, sciences and technology "to enlighten those who learn only for themselves".
The Encyclopédie became an event, perhaps the epitomizing event, of the French Enlightenement. It is celebrated not so much for its content - indeed, much of it was mundane and dull, more radical writing could be found elsewhere - as for its spirit and for the opposition it attracted. It served as a lightning rod for both foes and friends of illuminisme.
In the end, the Encyclopédie would consist of 28 volumes (17 text volumes plus 11 plate volumes) published between 1751 and 1765, to which may be added the five volumes of later supplements (published 1776-77) and two volumes of indexes (published 1780). Overall, it was composed of 70,000 articles involving around 135 contributors. In its original run, over the course of its publication from 1751 to 1765, it would attract some 4,000 subscribers, about half of them in France, the other half abroad. A full set of the original Encyclopédie cost subscribers a little over 1,000 livres (or £50 sterling then, or about US$11,000 today). As such, it was a luxury affordable only to the well-to-do - mostly haute bourgeoisie and libraries in political and academic centers. Cheaper editions would be later brought out by foreign publishers, starting in the 1770s, and it would gradually become accessible to professionals, merchants and the middle classes of commercial and manufacturing cities.
The first volume (A to Azy) of the Encyclopédie came out in June 1751, with a "Discours préliminaire" authored primarily by D'Alembert. It incorporated Diderot's prospectus, including a chart outlining the "tree" of human knowledge - how different sciences, fields and categories connected to each other. The Jesuits, who dominated education in France, took an immediate dislike to the Encyclopédie, and already in 1751, articles appeared in several publications (notably the Journal de Trévoux) accusing the Encyclopédie of plagiarism and attacking it for criticizing Jesuit teaching methods, denigrating saints and kings, encouraging free-thinking and Deism and urging its proscription. Diderot replied acerbically to some of his critics (notably the Jesuit writer Berthier) - conscious that controversy helped advertise the project and attracted more subscribers. The leading philosophe of the age, Voltaire, in a counter-article in the Siècle (December, 1751), rose to the defense and praised the Encyclopédie. Nonetheless, the philosophes could not prevent the appointment of a royal censor to watch the project. However, the choice of censor - Malesherbes - turned out to be congenial to the project.
The second volume (B to Ce) came out in February 1752. Here began the participation of the Baron d'Holbach and the prolific Chevalier de Jaucourt (who would go on to author nearly a quarter of the articles of the Encyclopédie). The second volume contained a firecracker, a controversial article on "Certainty" by Abbé Jean-Martine des Prades, which caused a bit of a storm (it was eventually condemned as heretical by the Sorbonne and the Archbishop of Paris in November, 1752). A few days later, the Jesuits's supporters secured a royal order from the Council of State formally suppressing the Encyclopédie. What that meant in practice was not clear. Prades and a few of the radical collaborators were exiled and publication was suspended. But the sympathetic censor Malesherbes and the Madame de Pompadour, the king's powerful mistress, prevented the shut down of their offices and seizure of their papers. They insinuated that Diderot and d'Alembert ought to continue working as if nothing had happened.
The third volume (Cha to Cons) came out discretely in November 1753, and contained a series of economic articles by the Neo-Colbertiste economist François Veron de Forbonnais. D'Alembert's article on schools ("Collège") was highly critical of the Jesuit stranglehold on education, and provoked predictable protests. But the polemics were not really sustained. The fourth volume (Cons to Diz) came out a year later (Oct 1754) without significant protests. The fifth volume (Do to Es), which came out in November 1755, was preceded by the famous "Éloge a Montesquieu" by d'Alembert, a combative manifesto of Enlightenment thinking. It also included the first articles contributed by Voltaire, who, sensing the succès de scandale it was becoming, could not resist climbing aboard. It also contained the entry "Economie" authored by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Rousseau's numerous other articles were confined to music).
The sixth volume ("Et to Fn", Nov 1756) contained the first known contributions of writers who would later become the Physiocrats - two articles by François Quesnay (his first writings), three articles by a young Jacques Turgot, and some theological articles by the Abbé Morellet. The venerable philosophe Voltaire contributed many articles to this volume, mostly related to literature and grammar.
The Seventh volume (Fo to Gy) appeared in November 1757. It again includes articles by Quesnay, Turgot and Morellet. Once again Voltaire contributes many articles.. The late Montesquieu only (posthumous) contribution to the Encyclopédie appeared now, an article on taste ("goût"), completed by Voltaire.
The seventh volume turned out to be the last volume for a while. Prior to its release, a series of articles had appeared over the summer of 1757 in the Mercure de France by conservative historian Jacob-Nicholas Moreau skewering the Encyclopédie, satirizing the contributors as a little "indian tribe", suggesting the writers are a tight-knit clique conspiring to overthrow morality, religion and even the government. Given the assassination attempt on Louis XV by an unemployed lackey, Francois Damiens back in January 1757, this was not an idle allegation. Parts of the French press eagerly insinuated an association between "free thinking" encyclopédisme and the attempted regicide. The appearance of the seventh volume did nothing to calm those fears. One of Voltaire's articles ("Geneva", co-authored with d'Alembert) provoked a vituperative protest from the government of the Geneva Republic A French religious group, led by the Franciscan friar Hayer, read a "Deist" profession of faith in the volume, and began pumping out La Religion Vengée, a series of volumes with detailed criticism of the Encyclopedie. But it also had its supporters. The periodical Journal encyclopédique, founded by Pierre Rousseau in 1756 and published over the border in Liege, had as its principal function the defense of the Encyclopédie from its critics.
In May 1758, while the eighth volume was in preparation, the radical hedonistic philosopher Claude-Adrien Helvétius published his treatise De l'Ésprit. It was widely-read, scandalously-received and instantly condemned. Although Helvétius was not a contributor to the Encyclopédie, he was a personal friend of Diderot and other writers, and the critics did not parse the difference. In the fall of 1758, the Jansenist A.J. Chaumeix launched a long series of detailed attacks on both, conjoining the two. Egged on by Chaumeix and other parts of the press, the Parlement of Paris opened a session in January 1759 to examine the subversive works. Helvétius's work was formally banned and burned. The Encyclopédie was also examined, and only just escaped proscription. But it was clear its days were numbered.
On March 8, 1759 the French crown revoked the publication of privileges of of the Encyclopédie thereby suspending its publication. Begun in 1751, only seven volumes had appeared so far, covering topics from A to G. The suspension seems to have come about by the intervention of sympathizers - specifically Pompadour and Malesherbes - as a means to remove the matter from the legal courts and avoid more serious consequences. Nonetheless, Malesherbes made it clear to the editors that the suspension would be enforced - that he would not tolerate its publication abroad. A few months later, in July, the French government issued a decree ordering the publisher to Le Breton to refund subscribers for the missing volumes (but apparently no one took it up). On September 3, 1759 Pope Clement XIII issued the encyclical "Ut Primam" [ch] condemning the Encyclopédie.
The polemics, which had reached their height in 1759, would linger during the suspension. Hayer's Society, Chaumeix and Abbé Gauchat continued pumping out their anti-encyclopediste pamphlets unabated. In May, 1760, Charles Palissot put on a farcical play at the Comédie Française skewering the philosophes.
Having had enough, D'Alembert, resigned from the project in 1759. Reportedly, it was due not merely the external problems, but also internal ones; the ego of some heavyweight contributors - namely Voltaire - had worn d'Alembert down. Turgot, who had only recently proposed to write many articles, also decided to quit (Neymark, p.47). Diderot was left in charge as sole editor. In 1760, with the controversy beginning to die down, Le Breton and Diderot announced that they would begin publication of "plate volumes" for the continuing Encyclopédie subscribers. These would consist almost purely of illustrations (with text merely describing the pictures). This was implicitly allowed by the censor Malesherbes. Over the course of the next decade (from 1762 to 1772), Diderot arranged for the publication of eleven plate volumes in ten installments.
The appearance of the plate volumes was facilitated by the sudden change of mood in France. The prosecution of the Jesuit Order by the Parlement of Paris in 1761 had stoked anti-religious feeling, raising it to a feverish pitch by 1762, and eliminated one of the Encyclopédie's most vocal enemies (the Jesuits were expelled from France in 1763). The other main anti-encyclopedists - Hayer, Chaumeix and Gauchat - quietly wound up their polemical pamphlets in 1762.
So the tide had turned by 1762. It was not that the encyclopedistes were suddenly graced with public favor, but rather that the anti-encylopediste hysteria had waned. As early as 1761, the Abbé Irailh felt comfortable enough to write a sober account of the controversy as a past event rather than an on-going issue (Querelles Littéraires, v.4, p.118). A volume put out by Abbé Jean Saas in 1762 did not touch polemics, but merely pointed out factual errors and mistakes in the Encyclopédie (albeit Saas's larger 1764 volume touches on some).
French censorship had encouraged well-wishers abroad. In 1762, the empress Catherine the Great of Russia invited Diderot to St. Petersburg, offering to allow him to continue publication of the text volumes there. Diderot briefly considered it, but eventually turned it down. Joseph of Austria (future Emperor Joseph II from 1765), an avid reader of the Encyclopédie, also tendered an offer.
The break finally came in December 1765, with the death of Louis Ferdinand, Dauphin of France and son and heir of Louis XV. Louis Ferdinand had been the principal supporter of the conservative religious party in the royal court, and an intractable enemy of the the project. Within days of his death, Diderot announced the publication of the remaining ten volumes (volume 8 through volume 17) of the text Encyclopédie. Most appeared rather quickly in early 1766 (although stamped with a December 1765 date). Diderot sidestepped the 1759 suspension (formally still in effect) with a careful rewording of the title and adding the false imprint of Samuel Fauche of Neufchâtel (Switzerland), to suggest the volumes were being published abroad. The new royal censor Sartine (a friend of Diderot's) turned a blind eye and let it go forward. The only wrinkle in the resumption was when publisher André Le Breton was arrested and briefly imprisoned for having dispatched copies of the remaining volumes to Versailles without permission.
There are few articles of interest written by economists in the remaining volumes. As noted, Turgot, who had planned several, never finished them. Voltaire contributed a bunch to volume 8, and it is sometimes suggested that Claude Dupin wrote the article on salt mines for volume 14.
The journals of the day were largely quiet about the publication of the remaining volumes in 1766. The only real polemical attempt was Maleville's 1766 attack on the "Eclectique" article, but it wasn't followed up. The volumes and the supplement (see below) passed largely without controversy in the press, until Barruel's wider-ranging attack on the philosophes in general in 1781, drawing evidence from the Encyclopedie articles. (A couple of decades later, in his famous 1797 Memoirs, Barruel would blame the wild Jacobinism of the French Revolution on the influence of the Encyclopédie).
From the start, it was clear the Encyclopédie was deficient. Setting aside the objections to the content by religious conservative critics, even sympathizers like Grimm and Voltaire noted its faults. D'Alembert characterized it as a harlequin's outfit - some sparkling gems, but the rest of it rags. Saas's 1762-64 letters showed up embarrassing errors. In a memorandum written in 1768, Diderot outlined the problems. Besides the numerous factual mistakes, it failed to properly cover physics, and chemistry almost not at all, that the sections on mathematics and natural history needed to be expanded, that great swathes of articles on philosophy (logic, metaphysics and ethics) were poorly written or plagiarized, geography was inconsistent, the art sections needed serious revision from experts, and that the plates did not connect well with the text.
Already many had predicted there would have to be a second, corrected edition of the Encyclopédie. But the publisher André Le Breton balked at the prospect. The original subscribers, who had paid a hefty price, would likely be infuriated to find their expensive set obsolete so quickly. Finding a new set of subscribers would mean scraping the poorer down-market, and less likely to cover the costs. Moreover, the official suspension was still place, and having visited the Bastille, Le Breton was not willing to risk the ire of the authorities again. Le Breton sold the rights to the Encyclopédie to another publisher Charles-Joseph Panckoucke in December 1768.
Diderot was asked by Pancoucke in 1769 to stay on as editor for the second edition, but turned it down. Diderot had already promised the empress Catherine of Russia in 1768 that the second edition would be printed in St. Petersburg, under her patronage, and was already making separate plans (they turned out for naught - Diderot went to Russia in the early 1770s full of enthusiasm, but could not get his old friends or the Russians to give him anything more than promises; Diderot returned to France in 1774, disappointed by the whole experience, swearing off any encyclopedic projects, and moving on to other things).
Pancoucke soon encountered the problems Le Breton had feared: he could not drum up enough new subscribers or writers for a completely revised new edition. So Pancoucke scrapped the original plan and instead announced he would re-print the original edition, largely as it was (incorporating only the corrections of Saas) for any new subscribers, and to add a few supplementary volumes to be sold to the original subscribers. This ran immediately into trouble. As Pancoucke began re-printing the first volumes in early 1770, the French authorities cracked down on the printing house and impounded the copies. Pancoucke consequently decided to split the project - focusing on the supplementary volumes, and outsourcing the reprinting the original Encyclopédie to partners abroad. After prolonged negotiations with the republican authorities of Geneva, the re-edition of the originals finally begin to come out in 1771, published by Gabriel Cramer in Geneva for Pancoucke..
There still remained the Supplément volumes to organize. With Diderot uninterested, Pancoucke tapped Jean-Baptiste René Robinet, an ex-Jesuit turned philosophe to serve as editor of the Supplément volumes. Voltaire jumped aboard eagerly, and began writing articles to contribute to the supplement. But few others were as enthusiastic. Robinet obtained promises, but many failed to deliver. As the delays prolonged, some of the early contributors decided to withdraw their articles and print them separately on their own. Voltaire took some of the hundred articles he had prepared and published them as Questions sur l'Encyclopédie (1770-72), an irreverent mini-encyclopedia of his own. D'Alembert's protege, the Marquis de Condorcet, withdrew his articles on monopoly and monopolist to publish separately. Condorcet's other articles, mostly on pure mathematics, however, would remain.
After much wrangling, the Supplément volumes prepared by Robinet finally came out, composed of four text volumes and one plate volume. The first two text volumes came out in 1776, the last two plus the plate volume in 1777. They were published by Pancoucke in Paris and Marc-Michel May in Amsterdam. The cap the project, two index volumes, edited by pastor Pierre Mouchon, were published in 1780.
Encyclopédie méthodique (1782-1832)
The ink was still wet on the Encyclopédie when Charles Joseph Pancoucke launched a new encyclopedia project to supplant the old one. This new work, the Encyclopédie méthodique, was to be grander, larger and better organized than the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert. It would be more modern, more correct, more scientific, written (or revised from other dictionaries) by experts rather than amateurs or freelance hacks, and purged of the irreverence and outdated polemics of mid-century philosophes. In some ways, the Encyclopédie méthodique would be the encyclopedia that Diderot and d'Alembert had probably originally hoped for, but did not have the resources or time to pull together.
Dissatisfied with the fragmented structure of the original Encyclopédie. Pancoucke divided the volumes into subject areas, and had experts write comprehensive reviews of each subject in a single article, rather than forcing the reader to scamper around multiple fractional articles just to get the general idea. It was a sprawling work of over 200 volumes - 157 text volumes and the remainder plates. But it really consists of some 35 separate multi-volume dictionaries, with one universal index volume. The Encyclopédie méthodique, would take a half-century to complete - beginning in 1782 and finishing only in 1832. As such, it spanned over multiple dramatic and dizzying political and social changes in France - the Revolution, the Empire, the Restoration. Pancocke died in 1798, and it would have to be completed by his son-in-law Henri Agasse.
The economics articles were originally supposed to be under the supervision of the Physiocrat Abbé Nicolas Baudeau. Indeed, Baudeau edited the three volumes on Commerce (pulling its articles mostly from the pre-Physiocratic 1723 Dictionnaire universel du commerce of Jacques Savary de Bruslons). But Baudeau was too busy to edit the four volumes on political economy proper (Économie politique et diplomatique) which drew articles, including Quesnay's own, from the original Encyclopédie. So the task was given instead to Jean Nicolas Démeunier. More inclined to the more recent economics of Adam Smith, Démeunier drew much from Smith for his articles. However, one of the main contributors to the economics volume, Guillaume Grivel, was a dyed-in-the-wool Physiocrat, and wrote his articles from that perspective, drawing from Quesnay and Mercier de la Riviere. As a result, there are competing Physiocratic and Classical economics articles, unsynthesized, sitting side-by-side, in the Encyclopédie méthodique. It is curious that Quesnay's original article "Grains", an exposition of the Physiocratic doctrine, was not used for the "Grains" entry here (written by Démeunier) but rather re-appeared in Grivel's article "Bled".
The dictionary on finance drew much from the Oeconomiques of
Claude Dupin (1745-46) and the Recherches
(1758) of François Veron de Forbonnais and
the Mémoires concernans les impositions (1768-69) of Jean-Louis
Moreau de Beaumont.
Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des métiers et
The Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des métiers et des arts, edited by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, consists of 28 total volumes - 17 text volumes (1751-65) plus 11 plate volumes (1762-72)
Suppléments to Encylopédie
L’Encyclopédie méthodique ou par ordre de matières par une société de gens de lettres, de savants et d'artistes ; précédée d'un Vocabulaire universel, servant de Table pour tout l'Ouvrage, ornée des Portraits de MM. Diderot et d'Alembert, premiers Éditeurs de l'Encyclopédie.
Resources on the Encyclopédie
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