Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

7

THE LEARNED JOURNALS

i. Changing Europe's Intellectual Culture

The dictionaries and lexicons were a ubiquitous and irreversible engine of enlightenment. But from the 1680s, it became clear that there had arisen an even more powerful machine undermining traditional structures of authority, knowledge, and doctrine— namely the erudite periodicals. Possibly no other cultural innovation, observed Scipio Maffei (1675–1755), one of the chief heralds of the Venetian Enlightenment, in 1710, had exerted so immense an impact on Europe, over the previous four decades, as these journals.1 Everywhere, awareness of new ideas and knowledge, new books and debates, had been enhanced and enriched. It was, indeed, no exaggeration to maintain that, through the journals, Europe had, for the first time, amalgamated into a single intellectual arena. Henceforth, debates, controversies, the reception of new books and theories and their evaluation, were not just facilitated and accelerated but also projected beyond the national contexts hitherto determining the reception of new publications and research and thereby transformed into an international process of interaction and exchange.

Contemplating the rise of this powerful new cultural device in 1718, the inaugural preface of a leading learned periodical, L'Europe Savante of The Hague, observed that the journals' success had come neither quickly nor easily.2 Rather, for many years progress had been hampered by appreciable obstacles. While the first example of the genre, the Parisian Journal des Scavants, established in 1665, had rudimentarily performed the functions of the later journals—publicizing and evaluating new books, reporting scientific advances and scholarly debates, and providing obituaries of recently deceased savants—it also encountered formidable official and ecclesiastical obstruction and had been obliged to steer conspicuously clear of the more contentious theological and philosophical issues.3 Moreover, apart from the London Philosophical Transactions (also founded in 1665), designed to publicize the scientific work of the Royal Society, a journal similarly silent on the wider philosophical questions, no new erudite review subsequently appeared anywhere in Europe for nearly two decades until the founding, in 1682, of the Acta Eruditorum of Leipzig. The Acta,

1Giornale de' Letterati (Venice) i, 13; Berengo, Giornali veneziani, pp. xii–xiv; Carpanetto and Ricuperati,
Italy, 127; Waquet, Modèle français, 355.

2L'Europe Savante, i, preface, pp. i–vii.

3 Dann, 'Vom Journal des Scavants', 63–4.

-142-

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