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

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

CHAPTER EIGHT
Conclusion: Enlightenment and the
Republic of Letters

This book has been primarily a study of the intellectual hobbies of a small group of self-confessed republicans of letters who chiefly lived in the Rhone valley in the second half of the eighteenth century. The members of the group came from a variety of professional and social backgrounds. What united them was a common interest in antiquities and/or natural history. What gave them a deeper identity as a group was their close relationship (usually maintained by correspondence) with the physician and collector Esprit Calvet of Avignon, who deliberately chose them to be his intellectual companions and frequently introduced them to one another. For this reason, I have dubbed the group Calvet’s web, although this is not a sobriquet that many of his friends and correspondents would have appreciated. The small number of Parisians with whom Calvet was in contact, especially Caylus, would have considered him to be ensnared in their own web; so too would Séguier and, I suspect, La Tourrette; while a number of the Avignon physician’s less visible provincial correspondents had also allowed themselves to be trapped in other correspondence circles. The Republic of Letters in the second half of the eighteenth century was formed by an indefinite number of overlapping mini-Republics, of which Calvet’s web was just one minor example (see Fig. 8.1).

From the moment they caught the bug, Calvet and his friends were passionate and enthusiastic antiquarians and natural historians, even if, given their stoic credentials, neither quality was again one with which they would have been willingly associated. Outside their professional lives, their hobbies seem to have been all-consuming. They may have occasionally occupied themselves with domestic business affairs or relaxed in the bosom of their family or the company of ‘silly’ women, but most took little unforced interest in the world beyond their immediate mini-Republic. In the decades before the Revolution, they definitely had no desire to rock the political boat. To a man, they were all political conservatives who accepted the status quo and affected an indifference to the tergiversations of politics at Versailles. Calvet may have enjoyed hearing tittle-tattle about the court, but he had no wish to see the end of the Ancien Régime or the expulsion of the pope from Avignon. During the Revolution, the members of the web still alive tried to

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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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