D'Holbach's Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris

D'Holbach's Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris

Alan Charles Kors
Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 376
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    D'Holbach's Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris
    Book Description:

    Students of the Enlightenment have long assumed that the major movement towards atheism in the Ancien Régime was centered in the circle of intellectuals who met at the home of Baron d'Holbach during the last half of the eighteenth century. This major critical study shows, contrary to the accepted views, that in fact, atheism was not the common bond of a majority of the members and that, far from being alienated figures, most of the members were privileged and publicly successful citizens devoted to peaceful and gradual reform.

    Alan Charles Kors determines the coterie's membership and discovers it to have been a diverse assemblage of philosophes, men of letters, and scientists. Analyzing the thought and behavior of those members who lived past 1789, the author argues that the hostility to the Revolution expressed by the coterie's survivors was fully consistent with their world view.

    Originally published in 1976.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6990-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
    Alan Charles Kors
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    In the shadows of every historian’s distortions and inadequacies lie the partial records of actual men, relationships, and events awaiting the accident of scholarly attention and re-examination. These records may allow the scholar to touch merely the surface of men’s lives, actions, and expressed thoughts, but to distinguish by touch the genuine from the unwittingly counterfeit is no small progress in our efforts to link our minds and senses to the past. For many years now I have lived with the records of the coterie holbachique, a circle of philosophes, men of letters and scientists meeting at the homes of...

  5. PART I The Coterie Holbachique and the Enlightenment
    • ONE The Members of the Coterie Holbachique
      (pp. 9-40)

      We owe the name “coterie holbachique” to Rousseau, for whom the term “coterie” was a pejorative. In theConfessionsJean-Jacques wrote of Grimm, Diderot, d’Holbach, and the social friends of these three figures as “the coterie holbachique,” and he described a jealous conspiracy against his person and reputation which he believed them to have inspired and orchestrated.¹ In the course of Enlightenment studies, Rousseau’s name for a limited set of friends has come to stand in general for the group of men who met regularly at the dinners of Baron d’Holbach throughout the last half of the eighteenth century, many...

    • TWO Various Theses
      (pp. 41-91)

      In attempting to account for the uniqueness of the coterie holbachique, most nineteenth and twentieth-century observers have presented its singularity in terms of one or more of three putative traits: that the coterie was a salon of atheists and/or a center of collaboration and common efforts and/or a headquarters of some sort for the direction of theEncyclopédic. Let us evaluate these theses in the light of the actual membership of the coterie.

      Once it became accepted in scholarly circles that d’Holbach’s group was a coterie of atheists, anecdotal evidence that otherwise might have been treated with more skepticism or...

    • THREE The Coterie Holbachique Dévoilée
      (pp. 92-119)

      The nature of d’Holbach’s circle never was kept a secret. The portrait of the dinners at d’Holbach’s home was drawn and redrawn by his guests, and the testimony of his devotees was abundant. The coterie holbachique was a group of men who came together to talk freely among themselves and among invited guests. It was nothing more, and it was nothing less. Nothing less, because that already was something remarkable and unique in Paris in the eighteenth century.

      In most cultures there exist social barriers to spontaneous conversation and fundamental tensions between the world of private thought and the world...

    • FOUR A Diversity of Philosophes
      (pp. 120-146)

      Traditionally the thought of the coterie holbachique has been understood in terms of the atheism of d’Holbach, Naigeon and Diderot. As we have observed, however, there was no single metaphysic or attitude toward philosophy which dominated that assemblage of thinkers. D’Holbach’s circle embodied a diversity of interests and outlooks which made it a meeting-place of idiosyncratic intellectual goals and expressions. Its devotees came to the rue Royale and to Grandval with their own individual contributions to offer, from their own individual perspectives and experiences.

      Many members of the coterie, of course, may have been influenced (in any of several directions)...

  6. PART II The Members of the Coterie Holbachique and the Society of the Ancien Régime
    • FIVE Origins
      (pp. 149-183)

      The dinners and discussions of the coterie holbachique were not the assemblies of a circle of pariahs and outcasts. On the contrary, almost all the men who met regularly at d’Holbach’s homes had enjoyed, from the earliest moments of their mutual association, excellent individual prospects in their society. In the course of the decades that followed, most of them rose successfully into important elites within their chosen professions and areas of endeavor, and into positions which granted them almost universally recognized marks of quality in the hierarchical structures of the Ancien Régime. Some of them were born into honored and...

    • SIX Ascent
      (pp. 184-213)

      Let us cast one last backward glance at the members of the coterie holbachique before we examine their careers and standing within the structures of the Ancien Régime. Leaving aside Galiani, for whom France was only a temporary home, we have fourteen men of relatively diverse origins and early careers. Of the fourteen, ten were born in the provinces or foreign countries, and four were born in or near Paris.

      If we divide the coterie holbachique into those born to great station and wealth, and those who had to earn for themselves a place in the sun, a striking configuration...

    • SEVEN Privilège
      (pp. 214-258)

      In some respects, the lives of the members of the coterie holbachique during the period from 1760 to 1789 appear simply to reflect a continuation of the patterns observable in the 1750s. The real or imagined abilities of these figures as men of letters, scientists, thinkers and writers were valued or found particularly useful by important institutions and public figures, the latter often their friends or flattered patrons, and that recognition led to advancement in their chosen careers and their stations.

      There was a point, however, when the quantity, nature and cumulative effects of the honors, sinecures, dignities, positions, pensions...

  7. PART III The Members of the Coterie Holbachique and the French Revolution
    • EIGHT The Remnant
      (pp. 261-300)

      On January 21, 1789, Baron d’Holbach died. He was buried in his parish of Saint-Roch, in the presence of his titled daughters and sons-in-law, members of the noble and powerful d’Aine family, and his two successful sons, the elder now the baron d’Holbach in his turn.¹ Although on February 9 theJournal de Parisdevoted its first three pages to a letter from Naigeon in praise of the Baron’s life and works, the news of his death did not cause a great stir. The Baron had been in ill health for several years, and his salon, rent by deaths and...

    • NINE Mastery and Order
      (pp. 301-330)

      In the writings of the members of the coterie holbachique there are visions of worlds removed by many steps from the society of eighteenth-century France. There are angry declamations against the abuses of authority in the monarchical, aristocratic and clerical regime under which they lived. If one searches diligently, one can find the apostrophes, the tocsins, the outrage, the marks of an unyielding hostility toward the powers that be—in short, the passionate criticism that created in so many nineteenth-century minds a link between the philosophes of d’Holbach’s circle and the Revolution which had riven France.

      In 1780 Raynal placed...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 331-346)
  9. Index
    (pp. 347-360)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-361)