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Eighteenth-Century Studies 34.3 (2001) 458-461



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Book Review

The Encyclopedists as a Group. A Collective Biography of the Authors of the Encyclopédie. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century

Écrire l'Encyclopédie. Diderot: de l'usage des dictionnaires à la grammaire philosophique. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century


Frank Kafker. The Encyclopedists as a Group. A Collective Biography of the Authors of the Encyclopédie. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 345 (Voltaire Foundation: Oxford, 1996).

Marie Leca-Tsiomis. Écrire l'Encyclopédie. Diderot: de l'usage des dictionnaires à la grammaire philosophique. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 375 (Voltaire Foundation: Oxford, 1999).

None of the contributors to the Encyclopédie could have foreseen the cataclysmic events of the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the next, but many were still around to witness them. Most of the living Encyclopedists (fifty-six) opposed the French Revolution, while nearly all who were still alive (twenty-eight) supported the reign of Napoléon. These are some of the findings of Frank Kafker's The Encyclopedists as a Group. Kafker synthesizes the work adumbrated by Jacques Proust in the first section of Diderot et l'Encyclopédie (1962, '82, '95) and furthered by John Lough in The Contributors to the Encyclopédie (1973) and by Kafker himself in The Encyclopedists as Individuals (co-authored by Serena Kafker, 1988). Proust and Lough also furnish a point of departure for Marie Leca-Tsiomis in Écrire l'Encyclopédie. Leca-Tsiomis invokes [End Page 458] their characterization of the "trois massifs" or primary areas of knowledge in which Diderot contributed articles to the Encyclopédie: the mechanical arts, "l'histoire de la philosophie," and synonyms. To these she adds a fourth "massif": philosophical grammar. Where Kafker widens his purview to consider the entire group, highlighting both divergences and similarities among the contributors, Leca-Tsiomis concentrates on the articles furnished by the editor and architect of the project.

Kafker's chapters on the Encyclopedists' largely conservative reactions to the Revolution and to Napoleon effectively put to rest the image of a faction united in determination to overthrow the Old Regime. Kafker emphasizes that the Encyclopédie had promoted reform, not overthrow, of the monarchy; nowhere does the text call for a democratic transfer of power to the common people, although it does advocate the amelioration of their suffering. Concerning religion, the Encyclopédie is heteroglossic, presenting viewpoints ranging from atheistic materialism to orthodox Catholicism (not to mention deism and Protestantism).

Mirroring the wide range of viewpoints is the wide range of social backgrounds and professions represented among the contributors. According to Kafker's estimates, seven percent were of high nobility, twenty percent of lesser nobility, and probably more than half were commoners, including thirty-one percent from the upper bourgeoisie. To be sure, most had received the best education possible at the time, having studied at a collège and then gone on for advanced schooling in medicine, law, or even theology. As for their occupations, out of 140 known contributors, there were twenty-four teachers, twenty-four royal officials, twenty-three physicians, eleven craftsmen, ten priests or pastors, nine military officers, two peasant farmers, and just four businessmen, "a sign that the Encyclopédie was far from a capitalist stronghold," Kafker emphasizes (10). Ultimately, 115 were fairly secure financially when they began contributing to the Encyclopédie; among the remaining twenty-five were many of those, less invested in the sociopolitical status quo, whose pronouncements troubled the authorities: d'Alembert, Deleyre, Diderot, Duclos, Du Marsais, Lenglet, Marmontel, Morellet, Naigeon, Rousseau, and Toussaint.

Kafker's empirical research allows him to make informed critical interventions, as well. For example, armed with precise information concerning the individual Encyclopedists' career trajectories, Kafker goes on to assess the effects of censorship on the Encyclopédie. Kafker argues that repression of the encyclopedic enterprise and persecution of its contributors did indeed affect the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 458-461
Launched on MUSE
2001-04-01
Open Access
No
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