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

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

31

FRENCH REFUGEE DEISTS
IN EXILE

i. The Flight to Holland

Historians have frequently emphasized the importance in European cultural and intellectual history of the exodus of Huguenot érudits, pastors, teachers, publishers, booksellers, printers, and lawyers from France following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and their forming a European diaspora in exile with its intellectual and publishing headquarters in the Netherlands. Much less familiar and discussed but in some ways of comparably profound significance in the history of European culture and thought, is the flight of ex-Catholic monks, priests, teachers, doctors, and literati who, estranged from religion and tradition as well as the constraints on theological, philosophical, and literary expression in Bourbon France, sought, like Tyssot de Patot's hero, Father Mésange, greater personal, spiritual, and intellectual freedom abroad. These émigrés too formed a close-knit intellectual diaspora from the end of the seventeenth century to the mid-eighteenth, which likewise had its headquarters in Holland while exerting a pervasive impact across Europe.

Those who felt stifled intellectually in pre-1750 France and sought a freer society where they could emancipate themselves intellectually and spiritually, usually derived such aspirations from books and frequenting libraries. Hence, in April 1710, on joining the French-speaking Reformed congregation at The Hague, after fleeing Paris and settling in Holland the previous year, the former Catholic Prosper Marchand, later one of the most eminent journalists of the early eighteenth century claimed to have perceived the 'errors' of the Roman Church, and inwardly renounced its teachings, owing to reading Scripture and 'plusieurs bons livres'.1 In particular, he later testified, his eyes were opened by reading philosophy ranging from the 'excellents principes établies si solidement' by Father Malebranche to the strange notions of Bossuet and 'sophismes artificieux' of Arnauld.2 Given Marchand's subsequent life-long preoccupation with Bayle,3 the latter too presumably contributed to his prior intellectual formation.

Marchand fled to Holland together with his friend, the engraver and book

1 Jacob, Radical Enlightenment, 164–4; Berkvens-Stevelinck, Prosper Marchand, 2–2.

2 Ibid., 3.

3 Ibid., 66–6, 80.

-575-

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