Calvet's Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in Eighteenth-Century France

By L. W.B Brockliss | Go to book overview

Introduction
The Republic of Letters and
Enlightenment

IN THE THREE centuries that preceded the Enlightenment, the establishment world-view which dominated intellectual life can be most conveniently described as Augustinian. The dominant intellectual force in Europe remained the Church, and the Church, as it had been for a thousand years, was still in the thrall of a particular concept of Christianity associated with Augustine of Hippo. Put simply, it was believed that human nature had been irredeemably destroyed with Adam’s Fall. Not only could mankind no longer perform actions pleasing to God without particular divine assistance or grace, but humanity was henceforth adrift in a merciless natural world over which we had little control. The theological controversies of the Reformation era only gave Augustinianism a new lease of life, for both sides of the debate, Catholic and Protestant, shared a common belief in human corruption and nothingness: they argued over the finer points of salvation-theology, not anthropology. In the course of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, however, a small, but growing number of artists and intellectuals broke free from the Augustinian maw. While still in the main being orthodox Christians with regard to the reality of the Fall and the redemptive power of Christ, these anti-Augustinians or Christian humanists refused to accept that mankind was a lost cause, programmed for a life of sin and suffering unless God willed otherwise, and reasserted postlapsarian man’s dignity and potential.1

The rejection of Augustinian orthodoxy took several forms. In the fifteenth and first part of the sixteenth centuries, it manifested itself above all in the rediscovery or rather invention of a pre-Christian, classical world which believed that human beings could largely take charge of their own moral destiny and celebrated the delights of a properly organized earthly existence. While ancient (albeit Aristotelian) philosophy and classical literature had always had a powerful intellectual influence on the late middle ages, they had been carefully harmonized with an orthodox Christian vision. Renaissance humanists released the classical past from its theological straitjacket. An Augustan

1 The best but imperfect overview of the three centuries remains Robert Mandrou, From Humanism to Science (Harmondsworth, 1978; original French edn. 1973). The Augustinian leitmotiv is developed in L. W. B. Brockliss, ‘The Age of Curiosity’, in Joseph Bergin (ed.), The Seventeenth Century: Europe 1598–1715 (Oxford, 2000), ch. 5.

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Calvet's Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in Eighteenth-Century France
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • List of Illustrations xiii
  • List of Figures xv
  • List of Tables xvi
  • List of Abbreviations xvii
  • Biographical Note xviii
  • A Note on Terms xix
  • Currency Note xx
  • Introduction the Republic of Letters and Enlightenment 1
  • Chapter One - Esprit Calvet 20
  • Chapter Two - The Intellectual Milieu 69
  • Chapter Three - The Physician 126
  • Chapter Four - The Antiquarian 193
  • Chapter Five - The Natural Historian 242
  • Chapter Six - The Bibliophile 281
  • Chapter Seven - The Revolutionary Climacteric 335
  • Chapter Eight - Conclusion: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters 390
  • Bibliography 413
  • Index 435
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