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Transforming the Republic of Letters

Transforming the Republic of Letters: Pierre-Daniel Huet and European Intellectual Life, 1650-1720

April G. Shelford
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 275
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  • Book Info
    Transforming the Republic of Letters
    Book Description:

    Early modern Europe's most extensive commonwealth -- the Republic of Letters -- could not be found on any map. This republic had patriotic citizens, but no army; it had its own language, but no frontiers. From its birth during the Renaissance, the Republic of Letters long remained a small and close-knit elite community, linked by international networks of correspondence, sharing an erudite neo-Latin culture. In the late seventeenth century, however, it confronted fundamental challenges that influenced its transition to the more public, inclusive, and vernacular discourse of the Enlightenment. Transforming the Republic of Letters is a cultural and intellectual history that chronicles this transition to "modernity" from the perspective of the internationally renowned scholar Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630-1721). Under Shelford's direction, Huet guides us into the intensely social intellectual world of salons, scientific academies, and literary academies, while his articulate critiques illumine a combative world of Cartesians versus anti-Cartesians, ancients versus moderns, Jesuits versus Jansenists, and salonnières versus humanist scholars. Transforming the Republic of Letters raises questions of critical importance in Huet's era, and our own, about defining, sharing, and controlling access to knowledge. April G. Shelford is Assistant Professor in the History Department at American University, Washington, D.C.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-689-9
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Catastrophe struck Paris one night during the autumn of 1693. The building housing the library of the bishop of Avranches collapsed, sending books, manuscripts, and papers cascading into the street. Word quickly reached the residence of the Jesuit order, which had been promised the library as a legacy. The Jesuits rushed to the scene to retrieve what they could from the ruins and to prevent more thefts by onlookers. The owner of the library, the renowned scholar Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630–1721), then sixty-three, bitterly bemoaned the damage in letters to his friends in France and abroad. He himself blamed the...

  6. Chapter 1 The Road to Parnassus, 1648–61
    (pp. 13-44)

    The old bishop worried about his posthumous reputation. In his final decade, Pierre-Daniel Huet devoted three books to shaping his legacy: an anthology of selected correspondence and short scholarly treatises, an autobiography, and a miscellany of essays.¹ All are rich sources for scholars of the seventeenth century. Yet to the degree that they were autobiographical, they were difficult works for Huet to compose. His dilemma emerges most clearly in the autobiography,Commentarius de rebus ad eum pertinentibus(1718). Huet had trouble finding an appropriate model. He strove to reconcile contradictory objectives, justify the endeavor to himself, and anticipate likely criticisms....

  7. Chapter 2 The Lives of Poems, 1653–63
    (pp. 45-76)

    Johannes Georg Graevius remembered well his first experience of Pierre-Daniel Huet’s poetry. In the early 1650s, he was attending a scholarly gathering at the Musaeum in Amsterdam. Alexander Morus presented a long poem in the style of Lucretius, claiming that no one had ever imitated the ancient poet’s style as perfectly. When Morus finished, Graevius exclaimed how wonderful it was that Morus had shared these poetic riches—an excited demonstration of good taste that perhaps convinced the assembly to accept Graevius into their company. Graevius also pledged to seek permission to publish it so others could savor its pleasures. The...

  8. Chapter 3 The Empire of Women, 1651–89
    (pp. 77-113)

    “When you set to work, you work for the learned; when you amuse yourself and relax, you work for us, and you do not disdain our sex.”¹ With these words, the Marquise de Lambert thanked Huet for sharing his novelDiane de Castroand for giving her a copy of his treatise on novels. Huet composedDiane de Castro, ou le faux Incawhen he was twenty-five, and decades passed before he permitted anyone to read it. The marquise probably composed her note early in the eighteenth century.² Certainly, the letter struck a nostalgic tone. Believing that literary taste had...

  9. Chapter 4 The Gate of Ivory, 1646–90
    (pp. 114-143)

    Pierre-Daniel Huet reminded readers of theDemonstratio evangelica(1679) that there were two ways of acquiring knowledge: The human means of reason and the senses and the divine way of faith. He compared them to the gates Aeneas confronted when leaving the underworld: the Gate of Horn, through which “true shades” passed, and the Gate of Ivory, reserved for the exit of “false dreams.”¹ “Obscure, doubtful and deceptive,” the human way of knowing was like the ivory gate. “The infinite questions and tricks of philosophers” made it impassable, and it yielded only uncertain truth. But the divine way of horn...

  10. Chapter 5 Defending Parnassus, 1666–92
    (pp. 144-183)

    In 1700, Pierre-Daniel Huet, the Bishop of Avranches, attained a dubious distinction: French authorities seized a copy of hisNouveaux mémoires pour servir à l’histoire du cartésianismein a cache of nearly forty contraband books in Paris.¹ While the short satire stood out in a collection composed mostly of theological polemics, the seizure itself was typical. During the final decades of the seventeenth century, ancien régime censorship was at its most rigorous.² But why would Huet publish (or permit to be published) any work illegally, especially one as anomalous among his works as a vernacular satire? Because Edme Pirot, the...

  11. Conclusion: A Dialogue with the Future
    (pp. 184-190)

    In 1751, the first volumes of theEncyclopédiebegan to appear; the last would roll off the presses twenty years later, surviving violent criticism and clearing the hurdles of official censorship. What began as a modest commercial venture swelled to twenty-eight folio volumes. It contained tens of thousands of articles by more than 150 authors, accompanied by thousands of meticulously rendered illustrations that detailed everything from brain surgery to pin making, from sewing garments to the proportions of the Belvedere Apollo.

    TheEncyclopédieis regarded as one of the Enlightenment’s greatest achievements. It was also a manifesto of the self-described...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 191-238)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 239-256)
  14. Index
    (pp. 257-264)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)