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Title: Diderot and the Encyclopædists (Vol 1 of 2)
Author: Morley, John, 1838-1923
Language: English
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_First published elsewhere_

_New Edition 1886. Reprinted 1891, 1897, 1905_


The present work closes a series of studies on the literary preparation
for the French Revolution. It differs from the companion volumes on
Voltaire and Rousseau, in being much more fully descriptive. In the case
of those two famous writers, every educated reader knows more or less of
their performances. Of Diderot and his circle, such knowledge cannot be
taken for granted, and I have therefore thought it best to occupy a
considerable space, which I hope that those who do me the honour to read
these pages will not find excessive, with what is little more than
transcript or analysis. Such a method will at least enable the reader to
see what those ideas really were, which the social and economic
condition of France on the eve of the convulsion made so welcome to men.
The shortcomings of the encyclopædic group are obvious enough. They have
lately been emphasised in the ingenious and one-sided exaggerations of
that brilliant man of letters, Mr. Taine. The social significance and
the positive quality of much of their writing is more easily missed, and
this side of their work it has been one of my principal objects, alike
in the case of Voltaire, of Rousseau, and of Diderot, to bring into the
prominence that it deserves in the history of opinion.

The edition of Diderot's works to which the references are made, is that
in twenty volumes by the late Mr. Assézat and Mr. Maurice Tourneux. The
only other serious book on Diderot with which I am acquainted is
Rosenkranz's valuable _Diderot's Leben_, published in 1866, and
abounding in full and patient knowledge. Of the numerous criticisms on
Diderot by Raumer, Arndt, Hettner, Damiron, Bersot, and above all by Mr.
Carlyle, I need not make more particular mention.

_May, 1878._


     Since the following pages were printed, an American
     correspondent writes to me with reference to the dialogue
     between Franklin and Raynal, mentioned on page 218, Vol.
     II.:--"I have now before me Volume IV. of the _American Law
     Journal_, printed at Philadelphia in the year 1813, and at
     page 458 find in full, 'The Speech of Miss Polly Baker,
     delivered before a court of judicature in _Connecticut_, where
     she was prosecuted.'" Raynal, therefore, would have been right
     if instead of Massachusetts he had said Connecticut; and
     either Franklin told an untruth, or else Silas Deane.

     _September, 1878._

          CONTENTS OF VOL. I.

          CHAPTER I.

          The Church in the middle of the century
          New phase in the revolt
          The Encyclopædia, its symbol
          End of the reaction against the Encyclopædia
          Diderot's position in the movement

          CHAPTER II.

          Birth and birthplace (1713)
          His family
          Men of letters in Paris
          Diderot joins their company
          His life in Paris: his friendly character
          Stories of his good-nature
          His tolerance for social reprobates
          His literary struggles
          Marriage (1743)

          CHAPTER III.

          Diderot's mismanagement of his own talents
          Apart from this, a great talker rather than a great writer
          A man of the Socratic type
          Hack-work for the booksellers
          The Philosophical Thoughts (1746)
          Shaftesbury's influence
          Scope of the Philosophical Thoughts
          On the Sufficiency of Natural Religion (1747)
          Explanation of the attraction of Natural Religion
          Police supervision over men of letters
          Two pictures of the literary hack
          Seizure of the Sceptic's Walk (1747)
          Its drift
          A volume of stories (1748)
          Diderot's view of the fate and character of women

          CHAPTER IV.

          Voltaire's account of Cheselden's operation
          Diderot publishes the Letter on the Blind (1749)
          Its significance
          Condillac and Diderot
          Account of the Letter on the Blind
          The pith of it, an application of Relativity to the conception
              of God
          Saunderson of Cambridge
          Argument assigned to him
          Curious anticipation of a famous modern hypothesis
          Voltaire's criticism
          Effect of Diderot's philosophic position on the system
              of the Church
          Not merely a dispute in metaphysics
          Illustration of Diderot's practical originality
          Points of literary interest
          The Letter on Deaf Mutes (1751)
          Condillac's Statue
          Diderot imprisoned at Vincennes (1749)
          Rousseau's visit to him
          Breach with Madame de Puisieux
          Diderot released from captivity

          CHAPTER V.
          (1) ITS HISTORY.

          Previous examples of the Encyclopædic idea
          True parentage of Diderot's Encyclopædia
          Origin of the undertaking
          Co-operation of D'Alembert: his history and character
          Diderot and D'Alembert on the function of literature
          Presiding characteristic of the Encyclopædia
          Its more eminent contributors
          The unsought volunteers
          Voltaire's share in it
          Its compliance with reigning prejudice
          Its aim, not literature but life
          Publication of first and second volumes (1751-52)
          Affair of De Prades
          Diderot's vindication of him (1752)
          Marks rupture between the Philosophers and the Jansenists
          Royal decree suppressing first two volumes (1752)
          Failure of the Jesuits to carry on the work
          Four more volumes published
          The seventh volume (1757)
          Arouses violent hostility
          The storm made fiercer by Helvétius's _L'Esprit_
          Proceedings against the Encyclopædia
          Their significance
          They also mark singular reaction within the school of
          Retirement of D'Alembert
          Diderot continues the work alone for seven years
          His harassing mortifications
          The Encyclopædia at Versailles
          Reproduction and imitations
          Diderot's payment

          (2) GENERAL CONTENTS.

          Transformation of a speculative into a social attack
          Circumstances of practical opportuneness
          Broad features of Encyclopædic revolution
          Positive spirit of the Encyclopædia
          Why we call it the organ of a political work
          Articles on Agriculture
          On the _Gabelle_ and the _Taille_
          On Privilege
          On the _Corveée_
          On the Militia
          On Endowments, Fairs, and Industrial Guilds
          On Game and the Chase
          Enthusiasm for the details of industry
          Meaning of the importance assigned to industry and science
          Intellectual side of the change
          Attitude of the Encyclopædia to religion
          Diderot's intention under this head
          How far the scheme fulfilled his intention
          The Preliminary Discourse
          Recognition of the value of discussion
          And of toleration


          Their immense confusion
          Constant insinuation of sound doctrines
          And of practical suggestions
          Diderot not always above literary trifling
          No taste for barren erudition
          On Montaigne and Bayle
          Occasional bursts of moralising
          Varying attitude as to theology
          The practical arts
          Second-hand sources
          Treatment of metaphysics
          On Spinosa
          On Leibnitz
          On Liberty
          Astonishing self-contradiction
          Political articles
          On the mechanism of government
          Anticipation of Cobdenic ideas

          CHAPTER VI.
          SOCIAL LIFE (1759-1770).

          Diderot's relations with Madame Voland
          His letters to her
          His Regrets on My Old Dressing-gown
          Domestic discomfort
          His indomitable industry
          Life at Grandval
          Meditations on human existence
          Interest in the casuistry of human feeling
          Various sayings
          A point in rhetoric
          Holbach's impressions of England
          Two cases of conscience
          A story of human wickedness
          Method and Genius: an Apologue
          Characteristic of the century
          Diderot's inexhaustible friendliness
          The Abbé Monnier
          Mademoiselle Jodin
          Diderot's money affairs
          Succour rendered by Catherine of Russia
          French booksellers in the eighteenth century
          Dialogue between Diderot and D'Alembert
          English opinion on Diderot's circle

          CHAPTER VII.
          THE STAGE.

          In what sense Diderot the greatest genius of the century
          Mark of his theory of the drama
          Diderot's influence on Lessing
          His play, _The Natural Son_ (1757)
          Its quality illustrated
          His sense of the importance of pantomime
          The dialogues appended to _The Natural Son_
          His second play, _The Father of the Family_ (1758)
          One radical error of his dramatic doctrine
          Modest opinion of his own experiments
          His admiration for Terence
          Diderot translates Moore's _Gamester_
          On Shakespeare
          The Paradox on the Player
          Account of Garrick
          On the truth of the stage
          His condemnation of the French classic stage
          The foundations of dramatic art
          Diderot claims to have created a new kind of drama
          No Diderotian school
          Why the Encyclopædists could not replace the classic
          The great drama of the eighteenth century

          CHAPTER VIII.
          "RAMEAU'S NEPHEW."

          The mood that inspired this composition
          History of the text
          Various accounts of the design of _Rameau's Nephew_
          Juvenal's Parasite
          Diderot's picture of his original
          Not without imaginative strokes
          More than a literary diversion
          Sarcasms on Palissot
          The musical controversy




There was a moment in the last century when the Gallican church hoped
for a return of internal union and prosperity. This brief era of hope
coincided almost exactly with the middle of the century. Voltaire was in
exile at Berlin. The author of the Persian Letters and the Spirit of
Laws was old and near his end. Rousseau was copying music in a garret.
The Encyclopædia was looked for, but only as a literary project of some
associated booksellers. The Jansenists, who had been so many in number
and so firm in spirit five-and-twenty years earlier, had now sunk to a
small minority of the French clergy. The great ecclesiastical body at
length offered an unbroken front to its rivals, the great judicial
bodies. A patriotic minister was indeed audacious enough to propose a
tax upon ecclesiastical property, but the Church fought the battle and
won. Troops had just been despatched to hunt and scatter the Protestants
of the desert, and bigots exulted in the thought of pastors swinging on
gibbets, and heretical congregations fleeing for their lives before the
fire of orthodox musketry. The house of Austria had been forced to
suffer spoliation at the hands of the infidel Frederick, but all the
world was well aware that the haughty and devout Empress-Queen would
seize a speedy opportunity of taking a crushing vengeance; France would
this time be on the side of righteousness and truth. For the moment a
churchman might be pardoned if he thought that superstition, ignorance,
abusive privilege, and cruelty were on the eve of the smoothest and most
triumphant days that they had known since the Reformation.

We now know how illusory this sanguine anticipation was destined to
prove, and how promptly. In little more than forty years after the
triumphant enforcement of the odious system of confessional
certificates, then the crowning event of ecclesiastical supremacy, Paris
saw the Feast of the Supreme Being, and the adoration of the Goddess of
Reason. The Church had scarcely begun to dream before she was rudely and
peremptorily awakened. She found herself confronted by the most
energetic, hardy, and successful assailants whom the spirit of progress
ever inspired. Compared with the new attack, Jansenism was no more than
a trifling episode in a family quarrel. Thomists and Molinists became as
good as confederates, and Quietism barely seemed a heresy. In every age,
even in the very depth of the times of faith, there had arisen
disturbers of the intellectual peace. Almost each century after the
resettlement of Europe by Charlemagne had procured some individual, or
some little group, who had ventured to question this or that article of
the ecclesiastical creed, to whom broken glimpses of new truth had come,
and who had borne witness against the error or inconsistency or
inadequateness of old ways of thinking. The questions which presented
themselves to the acuter minds of a hundred years ago, were present to
the acuter minds who lived hundreds of years before that. The more
deeply we penetrate into the history of opinion, the more strongly are
we tempted to believe that in the great matters of speculation no
question is altogether new, and hardly any answer is altogether new. But
the Church had known how to deal with intellectual insurgents, from
Abelard in the twelfth century down to Giordano Bruno and Vanini in the
seventeenth. They were isolated; they were for the most part submissive;
and if they were not, the arm of the Church was very long and her grasp
mortal. And all these meritorious precursors were made weak by one
cardinal defect, for which no gifts of intellectual acuteness could
compensate. They had the scientific idea, but they lacked the social
idea. They could have set opinion right about the efficacy of the
syllogism, and the virtue of entities and quiddities. They could have
taught Europe earlier than the Church allowed it to learn that the sun
does not go round the earth, and that it is the earth which goes round
the sun. But they were wholly unfitted to deal with the prodigious
difficulties of moral and social direction. This function, so
immeasurably more important than the mere discovery of any number of
physical relations, it was the glory of the Church to have discharged
for some centuries with as much success as the conditions permitted. We
are told indeed by writers ignorant alike of human history and human
nature, that only physical science can improve the social condition of
man. The common sense of the world always rejects this gross fallacy.
The acquiescence for so many centuries in the power of the great
directing organisation of Western Europe, notwithstanding its
intellectual inadequateness, was the decisive expression of that

After the middle of the last century the insurrection against the
pretensions of the Church and against the doctrines of Christianity was
marked in one of its most important phases by a new and most significant
feature. In this phase it was animated at once by the scientific idea
and by the social idea. It was an advance both in knowledge and in moral
motive. It rested on a conception which was crude and imperfect enough,
but which was still almost, like the great ecclesiastical conception
itself, a conception of life as a whole. Morality, positive law, social
order, economics, the nature and limits of human knowledge, the
constitution of the physical universe, had one by one disengaged
themselves from theological explanations. The final philosophical
movement of the century in France, which was represented by Diderot,
now tended to a new social synthesis resting on a purely positive basis.
If this movement had only added to its other contents the historic idea,
its destination would have been effectually reached. As it was, its
leaders surveyed the entire field with as much accuracy and with as wide
a range as their instruments allowed, and they scattered over the world
a set of ideas which at once entered into energetic rivalry with the
ancient scheme of authority. The great symbol of this new
comprehensiveness in the insurrection was the Encyclopædia.

The Encyclopædia was virtually a protest against the old organisation,
no less than against the old doctrine. Broadly stated, the great central
moral of it all was this: that human nature is good, that the world is
capable of being made a desirable abiding-place, and that the evil of
the world is the fruit of bad education and bad institutions. This
cheerful doctrine now strikes on the ear as a commonplace and a truism.
A hundred years ago in France it was a wonderful gospel, and the
beginning of a new dispensation. It was the great counter-principle to
asceticism in life and morals, to formalism in art, to absolutism in the
social ordering, to obscurantism in thought. Every social improvement
since has been the outcome of that doctrine in one form or another. The
conviction that the character and lot of man are indefinitely modifiable
for good, was the indispensable antecedent to any general and energetic
endeavour to modify the conditions that surround him. The omnipotence
of early instruction, of laws, of the method of social order, over the
infinitely plastic impulses of the human creature--this was the maxim
which brought men of such widely different temperament and leanings to
the common enterprise. Everybody can see what wide and deep-reaching
bearings such a doctrine possessed; how it raised all the questions
connected with psychology and the formation of character; how it went
down to the very foundation of morals; into what fresh and unwelcome
sunlight it brought the articles of the old theology; with what new
importance it clothed all the relations of real knowledge and the
practical arts; what intense interest it lent to every detail of
economics and legislation and government.

The deadly chagrin with which churchmen saw the encyclopedic fabric
rising was very natural. The teaching of the Church paints man as fallen
and depraved. The new secular knowledge clashed at a thousand points,
alike in letter and in spirit, with the old sacred lore. Even where it
did not clash, its vitality of interest and attraction drove the older
lore into neglected shade. To stir men's vivid curiosity and hope about
the earth was to make their care much less absorbing about the kingdom
of heaven. To awaken in them the spirit of social improvement was ruin
to the most scandalous and crying social abuse then existing. The old
spiritual power had lost its instinct, once so keen and effective, of
wise direction. Instead of being the guide and corrector of the organs
of the temporal power, it was the worst of their accomplices. The
Encyclopædia was an informal, transitory, and provisional organisation
of the new spiritual power. The school of which it was the great
expounder achieved a supreme control over opinion by the only title to
which control belongs: a more penetrating eye for social exigencies and
for the means of satisfying them.

Our veteran humorist told us long ago in his whimsical way that the
importance of the Acts of the French Philosophes recorded in whole acres
of typography is fast exhausting itself, that the famed Encyclopædical
Tree has borne no fruit, and that Diderot the great has contracted into
Diderot the easily measurable. The humoristic method is a potent
instrument for working such contractions and expansions at will. The
greatest of men are measurable enough, if you choose to set up a
standard that is half transcendental and half cynical. A saner and more
patient criticism measures the conspicuous figures of the past
differently. It seeks their relations to the great forward movements of
the world, and asks to what quarter of the heavens their faces were set,
whether towards the east where the new light dawns, or towards the west
after the old light has sunk irrevocably down. Above all, a saner
criticism bids us remember that pioneers in the progressive way are
rare, their lives rude and sorely tried, and their services to mankind
beyond price. "Diderot is Diderot," wrote one greater than Carlyle: "a
peculiar individuality; whoever holds him or his doings cheaply is a
Philistine, and the name of them is legion. Men know neither from God,
nor from Nature, nor from their fellows, how to receive with gratitude
what is valuable beyond appraisement" (_Goethe_). An intense
Philistinism underlay the great spiritual reaction that followed the
Revolution, and not even such of its apostles as Wordsworth and Carlyle
wholly escaped the taint.

Forty years ago, when Carlyle wrote, it might really seem to a
prejudiced observer as if the encyclopædic tree had borne no fruit. Even
then, and even when the critic happened to be a devotee of the sterile
transcendentalism then in vogue, one might have expected some
recognition of the fact that the seed of all the great improvements
bestowed on France by the Revolution, in spite of the woful evils which
followed in its train, had been sown by the Encyclopædists. But now that
the last vapours of the transcendental reaction are clearing away, we
see that the movement initiated by the Encyclopædia is again in full
progress. Materialistic solutions in the science of man, humanitarian
ends in legislation, naturalism in art, active faith in the
improvableness of institutions--all these are once more the marks of
speculation and the guiding ideas of practical energy. The philosophical
parenthesis is at an end. The interruption of eighty years counts for no
more than the twinkling of an eye in the history of the transformation
of the basis of thought. And the interruption has for the present come
to a close. Europe again sees the old enemies face to face; the Church,
and a Social Philosophy slowly labouring to build her foundations in
positive science. It cannot be other than interesting to examine the
aims, the instruments, and the degree of success of those who a century
ago saw most comprehensively how profound and far-reaching a
metamorphosis awaited the thought of the Western world. We shall do this
most properly in connection with Diderot.

Whether we accept or question Comte's strong description of Diderot as
the greatest genius of the eighteenth century, it is at least undeniable
that he was the one member of the great party of illumination with a
real title to the name of thinker. Voltaire and Rousseau were the heads
of two important schools, and each of them set deep and unmistakable
marks both on the opinion and the events of the century. It would not be
difficult to show that their influence was wider than that of the
philosopher who discerned the inadequateness of both. But Rousseau was
moved by passion and sentiment; Voltaire was only the master of a
brilliant and penetrating rationalism. Diderot alone of this famous trio
had in his mind the idea of scientific method; alone showed any feeling
for a doctrine, and for large organic and constructive conceptions. He
had the rare faculty of true philosophic meditation. Though immeasurably
inferior both to Voltaire and Rousseau in gifts of literary expression,
he was as far their superior in breadth and reality of artistic
principle. He was the originator of a natural, realistic, and
sympathetic school of literary criticism. He aspired to impose new forms
upon the drama. Both in imaginative creation and in criticism, his work
was a constant appeal from the artificial conventions of the classic
schools to the actualities of common life. The same spirit united with
the tendency of his philosophy to place him among the very few men who
have been great and genuine observers of human nature and human
existence. So singular and widely active a genius may well interest us,
even apart from the important place that he holds in the history of
literature and opinion.



Denis Diderot was born at Langres in 1713, being thus a few months
younger than Rousseau (1712), nearly twenty years younger than Voltaire
(1694), nearly two years younger than Hume (1711), and eleven years
older than Kant (1724). His stock was ancient and of good repute. The
family had been engaged in the great local industry, the manufacture of
cutlery, for no less than two centuries in direct line. Diderot liked to
dwell on the historic prowess of his town, from the days of Julius
Cæsar and the old Lingones and Sabinus, down to the time of the Great
Monarch. With the taste of his generation for tracing moral qualities to
a climatic source, he explained a certain vivacity and mobility in the
people of his district by the great frequency and violence of its
atmospheric changes from hot to cold, from calm to storm, from rain to
sunshine. "Thus they learn from earliest infancy to turn to every wind.
The man of Langres has a head on his shoulders like the weathercock at
the top of the church spire. It is never fixed at one point; if it
returns to the point it has left, it is not to stop there. With an
amazing rapidity in their movements, their desires, their plans, their
fancies, their ideas, they are cumbrous in speech. For myself, I belong
to my country side." This was thoroughly true. He inherited all the
versatility of his compatriots, all their swift impetuosity, and
something of their want of dexterity in expression.

His father was one of the bravest, most upright, most patient, most
sensible of men. Diderot never ceased to regret that the old man's
portrait had not been taken with his apron on, his spectacles pushed up,
and a hand on the grinder's wheel. After his death, none of his
neighbours could speak of him to his son without tears in their eyes.
Diderot, wild and irregular as were his earlier days, had always a true
affection for his father. "One of the sweetest moments of my life," he
once said, "was more than thirty years ago, and I remember it as if it
were yesterday, when my father saw me coming home from school, my arms
laden with the prizes I had carried off, and my shoulders burdened with
the wreaths they had given me, which were too big for my brow and had
slipped over my head. As soon as he caught sight of me some way off, he
threw down his work, hurried to the door to meet me, and fell a-weeping.
It is a fine sight--a grave and sterling man melted to tears."[1] Of his
mother we know less. He had a sister, who seems to have possessed the
rough material of his own qualities. He describes her as "lively,
active, cheerful, decided, prompt to take offence, slow to come round
again, without much care for present or future, never willing to be
imposed on by people or circumstance; free in her ways, still more free
in her talk; she is a sort of Diogenes in petticoats.... She is the most
original and the most strongly-marked creature I know; she is goodness
itself, but with a peculiar physiognomy."[2] His only brother showed
some of the same native stuff, but of thinner and sourer quality. He
became an abbé and a saint, peevish, umbrageous, and as excessively
devout as his more famous brother was excessively the opposite. "He
would have been a good friend and a good brother," wrote Diderot, "if
religion had not bidden him trample under foot such poor weaknesses as
these. He is a good Christian, who proves to me every minute of the day
how much better it would be to be a good man. He shows that what they
call evangelical perfection is only the mischievous art of stifling
nature, which would most likely have spoken as lustily in him as in

Diderot, like so many others of the eighteenth-century reformers, was a
pupil of the Jesuits. An ardent, impetuous, over-genial temperament was
the cause of frequent irregularities in conduct. But his quick and
active understanding overcame all obstacles. His teachers, ever wisely
on the alert for superior capacity, hoped to enlist his talents in the
Order. Either they or he planned his escape from home, but his father
got to hear of it. "My grandfather," says Diderot's daughter, "kept the
profoundest silence, but as he went off to bed took with him the keys of
the yard door." When he heard his son going downstairs, he presented
himself before him, and asked whither he was bound at twelve o'clock at
night. "To Paris," replied the youth, "where I am to join the Jesuits."
"That will not be to-night; but your wishes shall be fulfilled. First
let us have our sleep." The next morning his father took two places in
the coach, and carried him to Paris to the Collége d'Harcourt. He made
all the arrangements, and wished his son good-bye. But the good man
loved the boy too dearly to leave him without being quite at ease how he
would fare; he had the patience to remain a whole fortnight, killing the
time and half dead of weariness in an inn, without ever seeing the one
object of his stay. At the end of the fortnight he went to the college,
and Diderot used many a time to say that such a mark of tenderness and
goodness would have made him go to the other end of the world if his
father had required it. "My friend," said his father, "I am come to see
if you are well, if you are satisfied with your superiors, with your
food, with your companions, and with yourself. If you are not well or
not happy, we will go back together to your mother. If you had rather
stay where you are, I am come to give you a word, to embrace you, and to
leave you my blessing." The boy declared he was perfectly happy; and the
principal pronounced him an excellent scholar, though already promising
to be a troublesome one.[4]

After a couple of years the young Diderot, like other sons of Adam, had
to think of earning his bread. The usual struggle followed between
youthful genius and old prudence. His father, who was a man of
substance, gave him his choice between medicine and law. Law he refused
because he did not choose to spend his days in doing other people's
business; and medicine, because he had no turn for killing. His father
resolutely declined to let him have more money on these terms, and
Diderot was thrown on his wits.

The man of letters shortly before the middle of the century was as much
an outcast and a beggar in Paris as he was in London. Voltaire, Gray,
and Richardson were perhaps the only three conspicuous writers of the
time, who had never known what it was to want a meal or to go without a
shirt. But then none of the three depended on his pen for his
livelihood. Every other man of that day whose writings have delighted
and instructed the world since, had begun his career, and more than one
of them continued and ended it, as a drudge and a vagabond. Fielding and
Collins, Goldsmith and Johnson, in England; Goldoni in Italy;
Vauvenargues, Marmontel, Rousseau, in France; Winckelmann and Lessing in
Germany, had all alike been doubtful of dinner, and trembled about a
night's lodging. They all knew the life of mean hazard, sorry shift,
and petty expedient again and again renewed. It is sorrowful to think
how many of the compositions of that time that do most to soothe and
elevate some of the best hours of our lives, were written by men with
aching hearts, in the midst of haggard perplexities. The man of letters,
as distinguished alike from the old-fashioned scholar and the systematic
thinker, now first became a distinctly marked type. Macaulay has
contrasted the misery of the Grub Street hack of Johnson's time, with
the honours accorded to men like Prior and Addison at an earlier date,
and the solid sums paid by booksellers to the authors of our own day.
But these brilliant passages hardly go lower than the surface of the
great change. Its significance lay quite apart from the prices paid for
books. The all-important fact about the men of letters in France was
that they constituted a new order, that their rise signified the
transfer of the spiritual power from ecclesiastical hands, and that,
while they were the organs of a new function, they associated it with a
new substitute for doctrine. These men were not only the pupils of the
Jesuits; they were also their immediate successors as the teachers, the
guides, and the directors of society. For two hundred years the
followers of Ignatius had taken the intellectual and moral control of
Catholic communities out of the failing hands of the Popes and the
secular clergy. Their own hour had now struck. The rationalistic
historian has seldom done justice to the services which this great
Order rendered to European civilisation. The immorality of many of their
maxims, their too frequent connivance at political wrong for the sake of
power, their inflexible malice against opponents, and the cupidity and
obstructiveness of the years of their decrepitude, have blinded us to
the many meritorious pages of the Jesuit chronicle. Even men like
Diderot and Voltaire, whose lives were for years made bitter by Jesuit
machinations, gave many signs that they recognised the aid which had
been rendered by their old masters to the cultivation and enlightenment
of Europe. It was from the Jesuit fathers that the men of letters whom
they trained, acquired that practical and social habit of mind which
made the world and its daily interests so real to them. It was perhaps
also his Jesuit preceptors whom the man of letters had to blame for a
certain want of rigour and exactitude on the side of morality.

What was this new order which thus struggled into existence, which so
speedily made itself felt, and at length so completely succeeded in
seizing the lapsed inheritance of the old spiritual organisation? Who is
this man of letters? A satirist may easily describe him in epigrams of
cheap irony; the pedant of the colleges may see in him a frivolous and
shallow profaner of the mysteries of learning; the intellectual coxcomb
who nurses his own dainty wits in critical sterility, despises him as
Sir Piercie Shafton would have despised Lord Lindsay of the Byres. This
notwithstanding, the man of letters has his work to do in the critical
period of social transition. He is to be distinguished from the great
systematic thinker, as well as from the great imaginative creator. He is
borne on the wings neither of a broad philosophic conception nor of a
lofty poetic conception. He is only the propagator of portions of such a
conception, and of the minor ideas which they suggest. Unlike the Jesuit
father whom he replaced, he has no organic doctrine, no historic
tradition, no effective discipline, and no definite, comprehensive,
far-reaching, concentrated aim. The characteristic of his activity is
dispersiveness. Its distinction is to popularise such detached ideas as
society is in a condition to assimilate; to interest men in these ideas
by dressing them up in varied forms of the literary art; to guide men
through them by judging, empirically and unconnectedly, each case of
conduct, of policy, or of new opinion as it arises. We have no wish to
exalt the office. On the contrary, I accept the maxim of that deep
observer who warned us that "the mania for isolation is the plague of
the human throng, and to be strong we must march together. You only
obtain anything by developing the spirit of discipline among men."[5]

But there are ages of criticism when discipline is impossible, and the
evils of isolation are less than the evils of rash and premature
organisation. Fontenelle was the first and in some respects the greatest
type of this important class. He was sceptical, learned, ingenious,
eloquent. He stretched hands (1657-1757) from the famous quarrel between
Ancients and Moderns down to the Encyclopædia, and from Bossuet and
Corneille down to Jean Jacques and Diderot. When he was born, the man of
letters did not exist. When he died, the man of letters was the most
conspicuous personage in France. But when Diderot first began to roam
about the streets of Paris, this enormous change was not yet complete.

For some ten years (1734-1744) Diderot's history is the old tale of
hardship and chance; of fine constancy and excellent faith, not wholly
free from an occasional stroke of rascality. For a time he earned a
little money by teaching. If the pupil happened to be quick and docile,
he grudged no labour, and was content with any fee or none. If the pupil
happened to be dull, Diderot never came again, and preferred going
supperless to bed. His employers paid him as they chose, in shirts, in a
chair or a table, in books, in money, and sometimes they never paid him
at all. The prodigious exuberance of his nature inspired him with a
sovereign indifference to material details. From the beginning he
belonged to those to whom it comes by nature to count life more than
meat, and the body than raiment. The outward things of existence were
to him really outward. They never vexed or absorbed his days and nights,
nor overcame his vigorous constitutional instinct for the true
proportions of external circumstance. He was of the humour of the old
philosopher who, when he heard that all his worldly goods had been lost
in a shipwreck, only made for answer, _Jubet me fortuna expeditius
philosophari_. Once he had the good hap to be appointed tutor to the
sons of a man of wealth. He performed his duties zealously, he was well
housed and well fed, and he gave the fullest satisfaction to his
employer. At the end of three months the mechanical toil had grown
unbearable to him. The father of his pupils offered him any terms if he
would remain. "Look at me, sir," replied the tutor; "my face is as
yellow as a lemon. I am making men of your children, but each day I am
becoming a child with them. I am a thousand times too rich and too
comfortable in your house; leave it I must. What I want is not to live
better, but to avoid dying." Again he plunged from comfort into the life
of the garret. If he met any old friend from Langres, he borrowed, and
the honest father repaid the loan. His mother's savings were brought to
him by a faithful creature who had long served in their house, and who
now more than once trudged all the way from home on this errand, and
added her own humble earnings to the little stock. Many a time the hours
went very slowly for the necessitous man. One Shrove Tuesday he rose in
the morning, and found his pockets empty even of so much as a
halfpenny. His friends had not invited him to join their squalid
Bohemian revels. Hunger and thoughts of old Shrovetide merriment and
feasting in the far-off home made work impossible. He hastened out of
doors and walked about all day visiting such public sights as were open
to the penniless. When he returned to his garret at night, his landlady
found him in a swoon, and with the compassion of a good soul she forced
him to share her supper. "That day," Diderot used to tell his children
in later years, "I promised myself that if ever happier times should
come, and ever I should have anything, I would never refuse help to any
living creature, nor ever condemn him to the misery of such a day as
that."[6] And the real interest of the story lies in the fact that no
oath was ever more faithfully kept. There is no greater test of the
essential richness of a man's nature than that this squalid adversity,
not of the sentimental introspective kind but hard and grinding, and not
even kept in countenance by respectability, fails to make him a savage
or a miser or a misanthrope.

Diderot had his bitter moments. He knew the gloom and despondency that
have their inevitable hour in every solitary and unordered life. But the
fits did not last. They left no sour sediment, and this is the sign of
health in temperament, provided it be not due to mere callousness. From
that horrible quality Diderot assuredly was the furthest removed of any
one of his time. Now and always he walked with a certain large
carelessness of spirit. He measured life with a roving and liberal eye.
Circumstance and conventions, the words under which men hide things, the
oracles of common acceptance, the infinitely diversified properties of
human character, the many complexities of our conduct and destiny--all
these he watched playing freely around him, and he felt no haste to
compress his experience into maxims and system. He was absolutely
uncramped by any of the formal mannerisms of the spirit. He was wholly
uncorrupted by the affectation of culture with which the great Goethe
infected part of the world a generation later. His own life was never
made the centre of the world. Self-development and self-idealisation as
ends in themselves would have struck Diderot as effeminate drolleries.
The daily and hourly interrogation of experience for the sake of
building up the fabric of his own character in this wise or that, would
have been incomprehensible and a little odious to him in theory, and
impossible as a matter of practice. In the midst of all the hardships of
his younger time, as afterwards in the midst of crushing Herculean
taskwork, he was saved from moral ruin by the inexhaustible geniality
and expansiveness of his affections. Nor did he narrow their play by
looking only to the external forms of human relation. To Diderot it came
easily to act on a principle which most of us only accept in words: he
looked not to what people said, nor even to what they did, but wholly
to what they were.

Those whom he had once found reason to love and esteem might do him many
an ill turn, without any fear of estranging him. Any one can measure
character by conduct. It is a harder thing to be willing, in cases that
touch our own interests, to interpret conduct by previous knowledge of
character. His father, for instance, might easily have spared money
enough to save him from the harassing privations of Bohemian life in
Paris. A less full-blooded and generous person than Diderot would have
resented the stoutness of the old man's persistency. Diderot on the
contrary felt and delighted to feel, that this conflict of wills was a
mere accident which left undisturbed the reality of old love. "The first
few years of my life in Paris," he once told an acquaintance, "had been
rather irregular; my behaviour was enough to irritate my father, without
there being any need to make it worse by exaggeration. Still calumny was
not wanting. People told him--well what did they not tell him? An
opportunity for going to see him presented itself. I did not give it two
thoughts. I set out full of confidence in his goodness. I thought that
he would see me, that I should throw myself into his arms, that we
should both of us shed tears, and that all would be forgotten. I thought
rightly."[7] We may be sure of a stoutness of native stuff in any stock
where so much tenacity united with such fine confidence on one side,
and such generous love on the other. It is a commonplace how much waste
would be avoided in human life if men would more freely allow their
vision to pierce in this way through the distorting veils of egoism, to
the reality of sentiment and motive and relationship.

Throughout his life Diderot was blessed with that divine gift of pity,
which one that has it could hardly be willing to barter for the
understanding of an Aristotle. Nor was it of the sentimental type proper
for fine ladies. One of his friends had an aversion for women with
child. "What monstrous sentiment!" Diderot wrote; "for my part, that
condition has always touched me. I cannot see a woman of the common
people so, without a tender commiseration."[8] And Diderot had delicacy
and respect in his pity. He tells a story in one of his letters of a
poor woman who had suffered some wrong from a priest; she had not money
enough to resort to law, until a friend of Diderot took her part. The
suit was gained; but when the moment came for execution, the priest had
vanished with all his goods. The woman came to thank her protector, and
to regret the loss he had suffered. "As she chatted, she pulled a shabby
snuff-box out of her pocket, and gathered up with the tip of her finger
what little snuff remained at the bottom: her benefactor says to her
'Ah, ah! you have no more snuff; give me your box, and I will fill it.'
He took the box and put into it a couple of louis, which he covered up
with snuff. Now there's an action thoroughly to my taste, and to yours
too! Give, but, if you can, spare to the poor the shame of holding out a
hand."[9] And the important thing, as we have said, is that Diderot was
as good as his sentiment. Unlike most of the fine talkers of that day,
to him these homely and considerate emotions were the most real part of
life. Nobody in the world was ever more eager to give succour to others,
nor more careless of his own ease.

One singular story of Diderot's heedlessness about himself has often
been told before, but we shall be none the worse in an egoistic world
for hearing it told again. There came to him one morning a young man,
bringing a manuscript in his hand. He begged Diderot to do him the
favour of reading it, and to make any remarks he might think useful on
the margin. Diderot found it to be a bitter satire upon his own person
and writings. On the young man's return, Diderot asked him his grounds
for making such an attack. "I am without bread," the satirist answered,
"and I hoped you might perhaps give me a few crowns not to print it."
Diderot at once forgot everything in pity for the starving scribbler. "I
will tell you a way of making more than that by it. The brother of the
Duke of Orleans is one of the pious, and he hates me. Dedicate your
satire to him, get it bound with his arms on the cover; take it to him
some fine morning, and you will certainly get assistance from him."
"But I don't know the prince, and the dedicatory epistle embarrasses
me." "Sit down," said Diderot, "and I will write one for you." The
dedication was written, the author carried it to the prince, and
received a handsome fee.[10]

Marmontel assures us that never was Diderot seen to such advantage as
when an author consulted him about a work. "You should have seen him,"
he says, "take hold of the subject, pierce to the bottom of it, and at a
single glance discover of what riches and of what beauty it was
susceptible. If he saw that the author missed the right track, instead
of listening to the reading, he at once worked up in his head all that
the author had left crude and imperfect. Was it a play, he threw new
scenes into it, new incidents, new strokes of character; and thinking
that he had actually heard all that he had dreamed, he extolled to the
skies the work that had just been read to him, and in which, when it saw
the light, we found hardly anything that he had quoted from it.... He
who was one of the most enlightened men of the century, was also one of
the most amiable; and in everything that touched moral goodness, when he
spoke of it freely, I cannot express the charm of his eloquence. His
whole soul was in his eyes and on his lips; never did a countenance
better depict the goodness of the heart."[11] Morellet is equally loud
in praise, not only of Diderot's conversation, its brilliance, its
vivacity, its fertility, its suggestiveness, its sincerity, but also
his facility and indulgence to all who sought him, and of the
sympathetic readiness with which he gave the very best of himself to

It is needless to say that such a temper was constantly abused.
Three-fourths of Diderot's life were reckoned by his family to have been
given up to people who had need of his purse, his knowledge, or his good
offices. His daughter compares his library to a shop crowded by a
succession of customers, but the customers took whatever wares they
sought, not by purchase, but by way of free gift. Luckily for Diderot,
he was thus generous by temperament, and not because he expected
gratitude. Any necessitous knave with the gift of tears and the mask of
sensibility could dupe and prey upon him. In one case he had taken a
great deal of trouble for one of these needy and importunate clients;
had given him money and advice, and had devoted much time to serve him.
At the end of their last interview Diderot escorts his departing friend
to the head of the staircase. The grateful client then asks him whether
he knows natural history. "Well, not much," Diderot replies; "I know an
aloe from a lettuce, and a pigeon from a humming-bird." "Do you know
about the _Formica leo?_ No? Well, it is a little insect that is
wonderfully industrious; it hollows out in the ground a hole shaped like
a funnel, it covers the surface with a light fine sand, it attracts
other insects, it takes them, it sucks them dry, and then it says to
them, 'M. Diderot, I have the honour to wish you good day.'"[13]

Yet insolence and ingratitude made no difference to Diderot. His ear
always remained as open to every tale of distress, his sensibility
always as quickly touched, his time, money, and service always as
profusely bestowed. I know not whether to say that this was made more,
or that it was made less, of a virtue by his excess of tolerance for
social castaways and reprobates. Our rough mode of branding a man as bad
revolted him. The common appetite for constituting ourselves public
prosecutors for the universe, was to him one of the worst of human
weaknesses. "You know," he used to say, "all the impetuosity of the
passions; you have weighed all circumstance in your everlasting balance;
you pass sentence on the goodness or the badness of creatures; you set
up rewards and penalties among matters which have no proportion nor
relation with one another. Are you sure that you have never committed
wrong acts, for which you pardoned yourselves because their object was
so slight, though at bottom they implied more wickedness than a crime
prompted by misery or fury? Even magistrates, supported by experience,
by the law, by conventions which force them sometimes to give judgment
against the testimony of their own conscience, still tremble as they
pronounce the doom of the accused. And since when has it been lawful for
the same person to be at once judge and informer?"[14]

Such reasoned leniency is the noblest of traits in a man. "I am more
affected," he said, in words of which better men that Diderot might
often be reminded, "by the charms of virtue than by the deformity of
vice. I turn mildly away from the bad, and I fly to embrace the good. If
there is in a work, in a character, in a painting, in a statue, a single
fine bit, then on that my eyes fasten; I see only that: that is all I
remember; the rest is as good as forgotten."[15]

This is the secret of a rare and admirable temperament. It carried
Diderot well through the trial and ordeal of the ragged apprenticeship
of letters. What to other men comes by culture, came to him by inborn
force and natural capaciousness. We do not know in what way Diderot
trained and nourished his understanding. The annotations to his
translation of Shaftesbury, as well as his earliest original pieces,
show that he had read Montaigne and Pascal, and not only read but
meditated on them with an independent mind. They show also that he had
been impressed by the Civitas Dei of Augustine, and had at least dipped
into Terence and Horace, Cicero and Tacitus. His subsequent writings
prove that, like the other men of letters of his day, he found in our
own literature the chief external stimulant to thought. Above all, he
was impressed by the magnificent ideas of the illustrious Bacon, and
these ideas were the direct source of the great undertaking of Diderot's
life. He is said to have read little and to have meditated much--the
right process for the few men of his potent stamp. The work which he had
to do for bread was of the kind that crushes anything short of the
strongest faculty. He composed sermons. A missionary once ordered
half-a-dozen of them for consumption in the Portuguese colonies, and
paid him fifty crowns apiece, which Diderot counted far from the worst
bargain of his life. All this was beggarly toil for a man of genius, but
Diderot never took the trouble to think of himself as a man of genius,
and was quite content with life as it came. If he found himself
absolutely without food and without pence, he began moodily to think of
abandoning his books and his pen, and of complying with the wishes of
his father. A line of Homer, an idea from the Principia, an interesting
problem in algebra or geometry, was enough to restore the eternally
invincible spell of knowledge. And no sooner was this commanding
interest touched, than the cloud of uncomfortable circumstance vanished
from before the sun, and calm and serenity filled his spirit.

Montesquieu used to declare that he had never known a chagrin which half
an hour of a book was not able to dispel. Diderot had the same fortunate

Yet Diderot was not essentially a man of books. He never fell into the
characteristic weakness of the follower of letters, by treating books as
ends in themselves, or placing literature before life. Character,
passion, circumstance, the real tragi-comedy, not its printed shadow
and image, engrossed him. He was in this respect more of the temper of
Rousseau, than he was like Voltaire or Fontenelle. "Abstraction made,"
he used to say, "of my existence and of the happiness of my fellows,
what does the rest of nature matter to me?" Yet, as we see, nobody that
ever lived was more interested in knowledge. His biographer and disciple
remarked the contrast in him between his ardent impetuous disposition
and enthusiasm, and his spirit of close unwearied observation. _Faire le
bien, connaître le vrai_, was his formula for the perfect life, and
defined the only distinction that he cared to recognise between one man
and another. And the only motive he ever admitted as reasonable for
seeking truth, was as a means of doing good. So strong was his sense of
practical life, in the midst of incessant theorising.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the moment when he had most difficulty in procuring a little bread
each day for himself, Diderot conceived a violent passion for a
seamstress, Antoinnette Champion by name, who happened to live in his
neighbourhood. He instantly became importunate for marriage. The mother
long protested with prudent vigour against a young man of such
headstrong impetuosity, who did nothing and who had nothing, save the
art of making speeches that turned her daughter's head. At length the
young man's golden tongue won the mother as it had won the daughter. It
was agreed that his wishes should be crowned, if he could procure the
consent of his family. Diderot fared eagerly and with a sanguine heart
to Langres. His father supposed that he had seen the evil of his ways,
and was come at last to continue the honest tradition of their name.
When the son disclosed the object of his visit, he was treated as a
madman and threatened with malediction. Without a word of remonstrance
he started back one day for Paris. Madame Champion warned him that his
project must now be for ever at an end. Such unflinching resoluteness is
often the last preliminary before surrender. Diderot fell ill. The two
women could not bear to think of him lying sick in a room no better than
a dog-kennel, without broths and tisanes, lonely and sorrowful. They
hastened to nurse him, and when he got well, what he thought the great
object of his life was reached. He and his adored were married
(1743).[16] As has been said, "Choice in marriage is a great match of
cajolery between purpose and invisible hazard: deep criticism of a game
of pure chance is time wasted." In Diderot's case destiny was hostile.

His wife was over thirty. She was dutiful, sage, and pious. She had
plenty of that devotion which in small things women so seldom lack.
While her husband went to dine out, she remained at home to dine and
sup on dry bread, and was pleased to think that the next day she would
double the little ordinary for him. Coffee was too dear to be a
household luxury, so every day she handed him a few halfpence to have
his cup, and to watch the chess-players at the Café de la Régence. When
after a year or two she went to make her peace with her father-in-law at
Langres, she wound her way round the old man's heart by her affectionate
caresses, her respect, her ready industry in the household, her piety,
her simplicity. It is, however, unfortunately possible for even the best
women to manifest their goodness, their prudence, their devotion, in
forms that exasperate. Perhaps it was so here. Diderot at fifty was an
orderly and steadfast person, but at thirty the blood of vagabondage was
still hot within him. He needed in his companion a robust patience, to
match his own too robust activity. One may suppose that if Mirabeau had
married Hannah More, the union would have turned out ill, and Diderot's
marriage was unluckily of such a type. His wife's narrow pieties and
homely solicitudes fretted him. He had not learned to count the cost of
deranging the fragile sympathy of the hearth. While his wife was away on
her visit to his family, he formed a connection with a woman (Madame
Puisieux) who seems to have been as bad and selfish as his wife was the
opposite. She was the authoress of some literary pieces, which the world
willingly and speedily let die; but even very moderate pretensions to
_bel-esprit_ may have seemed wonderfully refreshing to a man wearied to
death by the illiterate stupidity of his daily companion.[17] This
lasted some three or four years down to 1749. As we shall see, he
discovered the infidelity of his mistress and broke with her. But by
this time his wife's virtues seem to have gone a little sour, as
disregarded prudence and thwarted piety are so apt to do. It was too
late now to knit up again the ravelled threads of domestic concord.
During a second absence of his wife in Champagne (1754), he formed a new
attachment to the daughter of a financier's widow (Mdlle. Voland). This
lasted to the end of the lady's days (1783 or 1784).

There is probably nothing very profitable to be said about all this
domestic disorder. We do not know enough of the circumstances to be sure
of allotting censure in exact and rightful measure. We have to remember
that such irregularities were in the manners of the time. To connect
them by way of effect with the new opinions in religion, would be as
impertinent as to trace the immoralities of Dubois or Lewis the
Fifteenth or the Cardinal de Rohan to the old opinions.



La Rochefoucauld, expressing a commonplace with the penetrative
terseness that made him a master of the apophthegm, pronounced it "not
to be enough to have great qualities: a man must have the economy of
them." Or, as another writer says: "Empire in this world belongs not so
much to wits, to talents, and to industry, as to a certain skilful
economy and to the continual management that a man has the art of
applying to all his other gifts."[18] Notwithstanding the peril that
haunts superlative propositions, we are inclined to say that Diderot is
the most striking illustration of this that the history of letters or
speculation has to furnish. If there are many who have missed the mark
which they or kindly intimates thought them certain of attaining, this
is mostly not for want of economy, but for want of the great qualities
which were imputed to them by mistake. To be mediocre, to be sterile, to
be futile, are the three fatal endings of many superbly announced
potentialities. Such an end nearly always comes of exaggerated faculty,
rather than of bad administration of natural gifts. In Diderot were
splendid talents. It was the art of prudent stewardship that lay beyond
his reach. Hence this singular fact, that he perhaps alone in literature
has left a name of almost the first eminence, and impressed his
greatness upon men of the strongest and most different intelligence, and
yet never produced a masterpiece; many a fine page, as Marmontel said,
but no one fine work.

No man that ever wrote was more wholly free from that unquiet
self-consciousness which too often makes literary genius pitiful or
odious in the flesh. He put on no airs of pretended resignation to
inferior production, with bursting hints of the vast superiorities that
unfriendly circumstance locked up within him. Yet on one occasion, and
only on one, so far as evidence remains, he indulged a natural regret.
"And so," he wrote when revising the last sheets of the Encyclopædia
(July 25, 1765), "in eight or ten days I shall see the end of an
undertaking that has occupied me for twenty years; that has not made my
fortune by a long way; that has exposed me many a time to the risk of
having to quit my country or lose my freedom; and that has consumed a
life that I might have made both more useful and more glorious. The
sacrifice of talent to need would be less common, if it were only a
question of self. One could easily resolve rather to drink water and eat
dry crusts and follow the bidding of one's genius in a garret. But for a
woman and for children, what can one not resolve? If I sought to make
myself of some account in their eyes, I would not say--I have worked
thirty years for you: I would say--I have for you renounced for thirty
years the vocation of my nature; I have preferred to renounce my tastes
in doing what was useful for you, instead of what was agreeable to
myself. That is your real obligation to me, and of that you never

It is a question, nevertheless, whether Diderot would have achieved
masterpieces, even if the pressure of housekeeping had never driven him
to seek bread where he could find it. Indeed it is hardly a question.
His genius was spacious and original, but it was too dispersive, too
facile of diversion, too little disciplined, for the prolonged effort of
combination which is indispensable to the greater constructions whether
of philosophy or art. The excellent talent of economy and administration
had been denied him; that thrift of faculty, which accumulates store and
force for concentrated occasions. He was not encyclopædic by accident,
nor merely from external necessity. The quality of rapid movement,
impetuous fancy, versatile idea, which he traced to the climate of his
birthplace, marked him from the first for an encyclopædic or some such
task. His interest was nearly as promptly and vehemently kindled in one
subject as in another; he was always boldly tentative, always fresh and
vigorous in suggestion, always instant in search. But this multiplicity
of active excitements--and with Diderot every interest rose to the
warmth of excitement--was even more hostile to masterpieces than were
the exigencies of a livelihood. It was not unpardonable in a moment of
exhaustion and chagrin to fancy that he had offered up the treasures of
his genius to the dull gods of the hearth. But if he had been childless
and unwedded, the result would have been the same. He is the munificent
prodigal of letters, always believing his substance inexhaustible, never
placing a limit to his fancies nor a bound to his outlay. "It is not
they who rob me of my life," he wrote; "it is I who give it to them. And
what can I do better than accord a portion of it to him who esteems me
enough to solicit such a gift? I shall get no praise for it, 'tis true,
either now while I am here, nor when I shall exist no longer; but I
shall esteem myself for it, and people will love me all the better for
it. 'Tis no bad exchange, that of benevolence, against a celebrity that
one does not always win, and that nobody wins without a drawback. I have
never once regretted the time that I have given to others; I can
scarcely say as much for; the time that I have used for myself."[20]
Remembering how uniformly men of letters take themselves somewhat too
seriously, we may be sorry that this unique figure among them, who was
in other respects constituted to be so considerable and so effective,
did not take himself seriously enough.

Apart from his moral inaptitude for the monumental achievements of
authorship, Diderot was endowed with the gifts of the talker rather than
with those of the writer. Like Dr. Johnson, he was a great converser
rather than the author of great books. If we turn to his writings, we
are at some loss to understand the secret of his reputation. They are
too often declamatory, ill-compacted, broken by frequent apostrophes,
ungainly, dislocated, and rambling. He has been described by a
consummate judge as the most German of all the French. And his style is
deeply marked by that want of feeling for the exquisite, that dulness of
edge, that bluntness of stroke, which is the common note of all German
literature, save a little of the very highest. In conversation we do not
insist on constant precision of phrase, nor on elaborate sustension of
argument. Apostrophe is made natural by the semi-dramatic quality of the
situation. Even vehement hyperbole, which is nearly always a
disfigurement in written prose, may become impressive or delightful,
when it harmonises with the voice, the glance, the gesture of a fervid
and exuberant converser. Hence Diderot's personality invested his talk,
as happened in the case of Johnson and of Coleridge, with an imposing
interest and a power of inspiration which we should never comprehend
from the mere perusal of his writings.

His admirers declared his head to be the ideal head of an Aristotle or a
Plato. His brow was wide, lofty, open, gently rounded. The arch of the
eyebrow was full of delicacy; the nose of masculine beauty; the
habitual expression of the eyes kindly and sympathetic, but as he grew
heated in talk, they sparkled like fire; the curves of the mouth bespoke
an interesting mixture of finesse, grace, and geniality. His bearing was
nonchalant enough, but there was naturally in the carriage of his head,
especially when he talked with action, much dignity, energy, and
nobleness. It seemed as if enthusiasm were the natural condition for his
voice, for his spirit, for every feature. He was only truly Diderot when
his thoughts had transported him beyond himself. His ideas were stronger
than himself; they swept him along without the power either to stay or
to guide their movement. "When I recall Diderot," wrote one of his
friends, "the immense variety of his ideas, the amazing multiplicity of
his knowledge, the rapid flight, the warmth, the impetuous tumult of his
imagination, all the charm and all the disorder of his conversation, I
venture to liken his character to nature herself, exactly as he used to
conceive her--rich, fertile, abounding in germs of every sort, gentle
and fierce, simple and majestic, worthy and sublime, but without any
dominating principle, without a master and without a God."[21] Grétry,
the musical composer, declares that Diderot was one of the rare men who
had the art of blowing the spark of genius into flame; the first
impulses stirred by his glowing imagination were of inspiration

Marmontel warns us that he who only knows Diderot in his writings, does
not know him at all. We should have listened to his persuasive
eloquence, and seen his face aglow with the fire of enthusiasm. It was
when he grew animated in talk, and let all the abundance of his ideas
flow freely from the source, that he became truly ravishing. In his
writings, says Marmontel with obvious truth, he never had the art of
forming a whole, and this was because that first process of arranging
everything in its place was too slow and too tiresome for him. The want
of ensemble vanished in the free and varied course of conversation.[23]

We have to remember then that Diderot was in this respect of the
Socratic type, though he was unlike Socrates, in being the disseminator
of positive and constructive ideas. His personality exerted a decisive
force and influence. In reading the testimony of his friends, we think
of the young Aristides saying to Socrates: "I always made progress
whenever I was in your neighbourhood, even if I were only in the same
house, without being in the same room; but my advancement was greater if
I were in the same room with you, and greater still if I could keep my
eyes fixed upon you."[24] It has been well said that Diderot, like
Socrates, had about him a something dæmonic. He was possessed, and so
had the first secret of possessing others. But then to reach excellence
in literature, one must also have self-possession; a double current of
impulse and deliberation; a free stream of ideas spontaneously obeying a
sense or order, harmony, and form. Eloquence in the informal discourse
of the parlour or the country walk did not mean in Diderot's case the
empty fluency and nugatory emphasis of the ordinary talker of
reputation. It must have been both pregnant and copious; declamatory in
form, but fresh and substantial in matter; excursive in arrangement, but
forcible and pointed in intention. No doubt, if he was a sage, he was
sometimes a sage in a frenzy. He would wind up a peroration by dashing
his nightcap passionately against the wall, by way of clencher to the
argument. Yet this impetuosity, this turn for declamation, did not
hinder his talk from being directly instructive. Younger men of the most
various type, from Morellet down to Joubert, men quite competent to
detect mere bombast or ardent vagueness, were held captive by the
cogency of his understanding. His writings have none of this compulsion.
We see the flame, but through a veil of interfused smoke. The expression
is not obscure, but it is awkward; not exactly prolix, but heavy,
overcharged, and opaque. We miss the vivid precision and the high
spirits of Voltaire, the glow and the brooding sonorousness of Rousseau,
the pomp of Buffon. To Diderot we go not for charm of style, but for a
store of fertile ideas, for some striking studies of human life, and for
a vigorous and singular personality.

Diderot's knowledge of our language now did him good service. One of
the details of the method by which he taught himself English is curious.
Instead of using an Anglo-French dictionary, he always used one in
Anglo-Latin. The sense of a Latin or Greek word, he said, is better
established, more surely fixed, more definite, less liable to capricious
peculiarities of convention, than the vernacular words which the whim or
ignorance of the lexicographer may choose. The reader composes his own
vocabulary, and gains both correctness and energy.[25] However this may
be, his knowledge of English was more accurate than is possessed by most
French writers of our own day. Diderot's first work for the booksellers
after his marriage seems to have been a translation in three volumes of
Stanyan's History of Greece. For this, to the amazement of his wife, he
got a hundred crowns. About the same time (1745) he published Principles
of Moral Philosophy, or an Essay of Mr. S. on Merit and Virtue. The
initial stands for Shaftesbury, and the book translated was his Inquiry
concerning Virtue and Merit.

Towards the same time, again, Diderot probably made acquaintance with
Madame de Puisieux, of whom it has been said with too patent humour that
she was without either the virtue or the merit on which her admirer had
just been declaiming. We are told that it was her need of money which
inspired him with his first original work. As his daughter's memoir,
from which the tale comes, is swarming with blunders, this may not be
more true than some of her other statements. All that we know of
Diderot's sense and sincerity entitles him to the benefit of the doubt.
The Philosophical Thoughts (1746) are a continuation of the vein of the
annotations on the Essay. He is said to have thrown these reflections
together between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Nor is there anything
incredible in such rapid production, when we remember the sweeping
impetuosity with which he flung himself into all that he undertook. The
Thoughts are evidently the fruits of long meditation, and the literary
arrangement of them may well have been an easy task. They are a robuster
development of the scepticism which was the less important side of
Shaftesbury. The parliament of Paris ordered the book to be burnt along
with some others (July 7, 1746), partly because they were heterodox,
partly because the practice of publishing books without official leave
was gaining an unprecedented height of license.[26] This was Diderot's
first experience of that hand of authority, which was for thirty years
to surround him with mortification and torment. But the disapproval of
authority did not check the circulation or influence of the Thoughts.
They were translated into German and Italian, and were honoured by a
shower of hostile criticism. In France they were often reprinted, and
even in our own day they are said not wholly to have lost their vogue
as a short manual of scepticism.[27]

The historians of literature too often write as if a book were the cause
or the controlling force of controversies in which it is really only a
symbol, or a proclamation of feelings already in men's minds. We should
never occupy ourselves in tracing the thread of a set of opinions,
without trying to recognise the movement of living men and concrete
circumstance that accompanied and caused the progress of thought. In
watching how the beacon-fire flamed from height to height--

    [Greek: phaos de têlepompon ouk ênaineto
    phroura, prosaithrizousa pompimonphloga--]

we should not forget that its source and reference lie in action, in the
motion and stirring of confused hosts and multitudes of men. A book,
after all, is only the mouthpiece of its author, and the author being
human is moved and drawn by the events that occur under his eye. It was
not merely because Bacon and Hobbes and Locke had written certain books,
that Voltaire and Diderot became free-thinkers and assailed the church.
"So long," it has been said, "as a Bossuet, a Fénelon, an Arnauld, a
Nicole, were alive, Bayle made few proselytes; the elevation of Dubois
and its consequences multiplied unbelievers and indifferents."[28]

The force of speculative literature always hangs on practical
opportuneness. The economic evils of monasticism, the increasing
flagrancy and grossness of superstition, the aggressive factiousness of
the ecclesiastics, the cruelty of bigoted tribunals--these things
disgusted and wearied the more enlightened spirits, and the English
philosophy only held out an inspiring intellectual alternative.[29]

Nor was it accident that drew Diderot's attention to Shaftesbury, rather
than to any other of our writers. That author's essay on Enthusiasm had
been suggested by the extravagances of the French prophets, poor
fanatics from the Cevennes, who had fled to London after the revocation
of the edict of Nantes, and whose paroxysms of religious hysteria at
length brought them into trouble with the authorities (1707). Paris saw
an outbreak of the same kind of ecstasy, though on a much more
formidable scale, among the Jansenist fanatics, from 1727 down to 1758,
or later. Some of the best attested miracles in the whole history of the
supernatural were wrought at the tomb of the Jansenist deacon,
Paris.[30] The works of faith exalted multitudes into convulsive
transports; men and women underwent the most cruel tortures, in the hope
of securing a descent upon them of the divine grace. The sober citizen,
whose journal is so useful a guide to domestic events in France from the
Regency to the Peace of 1763, tells us the effect of this hideous
revival upon public sentiment. People began to see, he says, what they
were to think of the miracles of antiquity. The more they went into
these matters, whether miracles or prophecies, the more obscurity they
discovered in the one, the more doubt about the other. Who could tell
that they had not been accredited and established in remote times with
as little foundation as what was then passing under men's very eyes?
Just in the same way, the violent and prolonged debates, the intrigue,
the tergiversation, which attended the acceptance of the famous Bull
Unigenitus, taught shrewd observers how it is that religions establish
themselves. They also taught how little respect is due in our minds and
consciences to the great points which the universal church claims to
have decided.[31]

These are the circumstances which explain the rude and vigorous
scepticism of Diderot's first performances. And they explain the
influence of Shaftesbury over him. Neither Diderot nor his
contemporaries were ready at once to plunge into the broader and firmer
negation to which they afterwards committed themselves. No doubt some of
the politeness which he shows to Christianity, both in the notes to his
translation of Shaftesbury, and in his own Philosophic Thoughts, is no
more than an ironical deference to established prejudices. The notes to
the Essay on Merit and Virtue show that Diderot, like all the other
French revolters against established prejudice, had been deeply
influenced by the shrewd-witted Montaigne. But the ardour of the
disciple pressed objections home with a trenchancy that is very unlike
the sage distillations of the master. It was from Shaftesbury, however,
that he borrowed common sense as a philosophic principle. Shaftesbury
had indirectly drawn it from Locke, and through Hutcheson it became the
source and sponsor of the Scottish philosophy of that century. This was
a weapon exactly adapted for dealing with a theology that was
discredited in the eyes of all cool observers by the hysterical
extravagances of one set of religionists, and the factious pretensions
of their rivals. And no other weapon was at hand. The historic or
critical method of investigation was impossible, for the age did not
possess the requisite learning. The indirect attack from the side of
physical science was equally impossible. The bearing of Newton's great
discovery on the current conceptions of the Creator and the supposed
system of the divine government, was not yet fully realised. The other
scientific ideas which have since made the old hypothesis less credible,
were not at that time even conceived.

Diderot did indeed perceive even so early as this that the controversy
was passing from the metaphysicians to the physicists. Though he for the
moment misinterpreted the ultimate direction of the effect of
experimental discovery, he discerned its potency in the field of
theological discussion. "It is not from the hands of the metaphysician,"
he said, "that atheism has received the weightiest strokes. The sublime
meditations of Malebranche and Descartes were less calculated to shake
materialism than a single observation of Malpighi's. If this dangerous
hypothesis is tottering in our days, it is to experimental physics that
such a result is due. It is only in the works of Newton, of
Muschenbroek, of Hartzoeker, and of Nieuwentit, that people have found
satisfactory proofs of the existence of a being of sovereign
intelligence. Thanks to the works of these great men, the world is no
longer a god; it is a machine with its cords, its pulleys, its springs,
its weights."[32] In other words, Diderot had as yet not made his way
beyond the halting-place which has been the favourite goal of English
physicists from Newton down to Faraday.[33] Consistent materialism had
not yet established itself in his mind. Meanwhile he laid about him with
his common sense, just as Voltaire did, though Diderot has more
weightiness of manner. If his use of the weapon cannot be regarded as a
decisive settlement of the true issues, we have to remember that he
himself became aware in a very short time of its inadequateness, and
proceeded to the discussion, as we shall presently see, from another

The scope of the Philosophical Thoughts, and the attitude of Diderot's
mind when they were written, may be shown in a few brief passages. The
opening words point to the significance of the new time in one
direction, and they are the key-note to Diderot's whole character.
"People are for ever declaiming against the passions; they set down to
them all the pains that man endures, and quite forget that they are also
the source of all his pleasures. It is regarded as an affront to reason
if one dares to say a word in favour of its rivals. Yet it is only
passions, and strong passions, that can raise the soul to great things.
Sober passions produce only the commonplace. Deadened passions degrade
men of extraordinary quality. Constraint annihilates the greatness and
energy of nature. See that tree; 'tis to the luxury of its branches that
you owe the freshness and the wide-spreading breadth of its shade, which
you may enjoy till winter comes to despoil it of its leafy tresses. An
end to all excellence in poetry, in painting, in music, as soon as
superstition has once wrought upon human temperament the effect of old
age! It is the very climax of madness to propose to oneself the ruin of
the passions. A fine design truly in your pietist, to torment himself
like a convict in order to desire nothing, love nothing, feel nothing;
and he would end by becoming a true monster, if he were to succeed!"[34]
Many years afterwards he wrote in the same sense to Madame Voland. "I
have ever been the apologist of strong passions; they alone move me.
Whether they inspire me with admiration or horror, I feel vehemently. If
atrocious deeds that dishonour our nature are due to them, it is by them
also that we are borne to the marvellous endeavour that elevates it. The
man of mediocre passion lives and dies like the brute." And so forth,
until the writer is carried to the perplexing position that "if we were
bound to choose between Racine, a bad husband, a bad father, a false
friend, and a sublime poet, and Racine, good father, good husband, good
friend, and dull worthy man, I hold to the first. Of Racine, the bad
man, what remains? Nothing. Of Racine, the man of genius? The work is
eternal."[35] Without attempting to solve this problem in casuistry, we
recognise Diderot's mood, and the hatred with which it would be sure to
inspire him for the starved and mutilated passions of the Christian
type. The humility, chastity, obedience, indolent solitude, which had
for centuries been glorified by the Church, were monstrous to this
vehement and energetic spirit. The church had placed heroism in
effacement. Diderot, borne to the other extreme, left out even
discipline. To turn from his maxims on the foundation of conduct, to his
maxims on opinion. As we have said, his attitude is that of the

What has never been put in question, has not been proved. What people
have not examined without prepossessions, they have not examined
thoroughly. Scepticism is the touchstone. (§ 31.)

Incredulity is sometimes the vice of a fool, and credulity the defect of
a man of intelligence. The latter sees far into the immensity of the
Possible; the former scarcely sees anything possible beyond the Actual.
Perhaps this is what produces the timidity of the one, and the temerity
of the other.

A demi-scepticism is the mark of a feeble understanding. It reveals a
pusillanimous reasoner, who suffers himself to be alarmed by
consequences; a superstitious creature, who thinks he is honouring God
by the fetters which he imposes on his reason; a kind of unbeliever who
is afraid of unmasking himself to himself. For if truth has nothing to
lose by examination, as is the demi-sceptic's conviction, what does he
think in the bottom of his heart of those privileged notions which he
fears to sound, and which are placed in one of the recesses of his
brain, as in a sanctuary to which he dares not draw nigh? (§ 34.)

Scepticism does not suit everybody. It supposes profound and impartial
examination. He who doubts because he does not know the grounds of
credibility, is no better than an ignoramus. The true sceptic has
counted and weighed the reasons. But it is no light matter to weigh
arguments. Who of us knows their value with any nicety? Every mind has
its own telescope. An objection that disappears in your eyes, is a
colossus in mine: you find an argument trivial that to me is
overwhelming.... If then it is so difficult to weigh reasons, and if
there are no questions which have not two sides, and nearly always in
equal measure, how come we to decide with such rapidity? (§ 24.)

When the pious cry out against scepticism, it seems to me that they do
not understand their own interest, or else that they are inconsistent.
If it is certain that a true faith to be embraced, and a false faith to
be abandoned, need only to be thoroughly known, then surely it must be
highly desirable that universal doubt should spread over the surface of
the earth, and that all nations should consent to have the truth of
their religions examined. Our missionaries would find a good half of
their work done for them. (§ 36.)

One thing to be remembered is that Diderot, like Vauvenargues, Voltaire,
Condorcet, always had Pascal in his mind when dealing with apologetics.
They all recognised in him a thinker with a love of truth, as
distinguished from the mere priest, Catholic, Anglican, Brahman, or
another. "Pascal," says Diderot, "was upright, but he was timid and
inclined to credulity. An elegant writer and a profound reasoner, he
would doubtless have enlightened the world, if Providence had not
abandoned him to people who sacrificed his talents to their own
antipathies. How much to be regretted, that he did not leave to the
theologians of his time the task of settling their own differences; that
he did not give himself up to the search for truth, without reserve and
without the fear of offending God by using all the intelligence that God
had given him. How much to be regretted that he took for masters men who
were not worthy to be his disciples, and was foolish enough to think
Arnauld, De Sacy, and Nicole, better men than himself." (§ 14.) The
Philosophic Thoughts are designed for an answer in form to the more
famous Thoughts of this champion of popular theology. The first of the
following extracts, for instance, recalls a memorable illustration of
Pascal's sublime pessimism. A few passages will illustrate sufficiently
the line of argument which led the foremost men at the opening of the
philosophic revolution to reject the pretensions of Christianity:--

What voices! what cries! what groans! Who is it that has shut up in
dungeons all these piteous souls? What crimes have the poor wretches
committed? Who condemns them to such torments? _The God whom they have
offended_. Who then is this God? _A God full of goodness_. But would a
God full of goodness take delight in bathing himself in tears? If
criminals had to calm the furies of a tyrant, what would they do
more?... There are people of whom we ought not to say that they fear
God, but that they are horribly afraid of him.... Judging from the
picture they paint of the Supreme Being, from his wrath, from the rigour
of his vengeance, from certain comparisons expressive of the ratio
between those whom he leaves to perish and those to whom he deigns to
stretch out a hand, the most upright soul would be tempted to wish that
such a being did not exist. (§§ 7-9.)

You present to an unbeliever a volume of writings of which you claim to
show him the divinity. But, before going into your proofs, he will be
sure to put some questions about your collection. Has it always been the
same? Why is it less ample now than it was some centuries ago? By what
right have they banished this work or that, which another sect reveres,
and preserved this or that, which the other has repudiated?... You only
answer all these difficulties by the avowal that the first foundations
of the faith are purely human; that the choice between the manuscripts,
the restoration of passages, finally the collection, has been made
according to rules of criticism. Well, I do not refuse to concede to the
divinity of the sacred books a degree of faith proportioned to the
certainty of these rules. (§ 59.)

People agree that it is of the last importance to employ none but solid
arguments for the defence of a creed. Yet they would gladly persecute
those who attempt to cry down the bad arguments. What then, is it not
enough to be a Christian? Am I also to be one upon wrong grounds? (§57.)

The less probability a fact has, the more does the testimony of history
lose its weight. I should have no difficulty in believing a single
honest man who should tell me that the king had just won a complete
victory over the allies. But if all Paris were to assure me that a dead
man had come to life again, I should not believe a word of it. That a
historian should impose upon us, or that a whole people should be
mistaken--there is no miracle in that. (§46.)

What is God? A question that we put to children, and that philosophers
have much trouble to answer. We know the age at which a child ought to
learn to read, to sing, to dance, to begin Latin or geometry. It is only
in religion that you take no account of his capacity. He scarcely hears
what you say, before he is asked, What is God? It is at the same
instant, from the same lips, that he learns that there are ghosts,
goblins, were-wolves--and a God. (§25.)

The diversity of religious opinions has led the deists to invent an
argument that is perhaps more singular than sound. Cicero, having to
prove that the Romans were the most warlike people in the world,
adroitly draws this conclusion from the lips of their rivals. Gauls, to
whom if to any, do you yield the palm for courage? To the Romans.
Parthians, after you, who are the bravest of men? The Romans. Africans,
whom would you fear, if you were to fear any? The Romans. Let us
interrogate the religionists in this fashion, say the deists. Chinese,
what religion would be the best, if your own were not the best?
Naturalism. Mussulmans, what faith would you embrace, if you abjured
Mahomet? Naturalism. Christians, what is the true religion, if it be not
Christianity? Judaism. But you, O Jews, what is the true religion, if
Judaism be false? Naturalism. Now those, continues Cicero, to whom the
second place is awarded by unanimous consent, and who do not in turn
concede the first place to any--it is those who incontestably deserve
that place. (§62.)

       *       *       *       *       *

In all this we notice one constant characteristic of the eighteenth
century controversy about revealed religion. The assailant demands of
the defender an answer to all the intellectual or logical objections
that could possibly be raised by one who had never been a Christian, and
who refused to become a Christian until these objections could be met.
No account is taken of the mental conditions by which a creed is
engendered and limited; nor of the train of historic circumstance which
prepares men to receive it. The modern apologist escapes by explaining
religion; the apologist of a hundred years ago was required to prove it.
The end of such a method was inevitably a negation. The objective
propositions of a creed with supernatural pretensions can never be
demonstrated from natural or rationalistic premisses. And if they could
be so demonstrated, it would only be on grounds that are equally good
for some other creeds with the same pretensions. The sceptic was left
triumphantly weighing one revealed system against another in an equal

The position of the writer of the Philosophical Thoughts is distinctly
theistic. Yet there is at least one striking passage to show how
forcibly some of the arguments on the other side impressed him. "I
open," says Diderot, "the pages of a celebrated professor, and I
read--'Atheists, I concede to you that movement is essential to matter;
what conclusion do you draw from that? That the world results from the
fortuitous concourse of atoms? You might as well say that Homer's Iliad,
or Voltaire's Henriade, is a result of the fortuitous concourse of
written characters.' Now for my part, I should be very sorry to use that
reasoning to an atheist; the comparison would give him a very easy game
to play. According to the laws of the analysis of chances, he would say
to me, I ought not to be surprised that a thing comes to pass when it is
possible, and the difficulty of the event is compensated by the number
of throws. There is a certain number of throws in which I would safely
back myself to bring 100,000 sixes at once with 100,000 dice. Whatever
the definite number of the letters with which I am invited fortuitously
to produce the Iliad, there is a certain definite number of throws which
would make the proposal advantageous for me; nay, my advantage would be
infinite if the quantity of throws accorded to me were infinite. Now,
you grant to me that matter exists from all eternity, and that movement
is essential to it. In return for this concession, I will suppose with
you that the world has no limits; that the multitude of atoms is
infinite, and that this order, which astonishes you, nowhere contradicts
itself. Well, from these reciprocal admissions there follows nothing
else unless it be this, that the possibility of engendering the universe
fortuitously is very small, but that the number of throws is infinite,
or in other words, that _the difficulty of the event is more than
sufficiently compensated by the multitude of the throws. Therefore, if
anything ought to be repugnant to reason, it is the supposition
that,--matter being in motion from all eternity, and there being perhaps
in the infinite number of possible combinations an infinite number of
admirable arrangements,--none of these admirable arrangements would have
been met with, out of the infinite multitude of all those which_ matter
successively took on. Therefore the mind ought to be more astonished at
the hypothetical duration of chaos."_[37] (§ 21.)

In a short continuation of the Philosophical Thoughts entitled On the
Sufficiency of Natural Religion, Diderot took the next step, and turned
towards that faith which the votaries of each creed allow to be the best
after their own. Even here he is still in the atmosphere of negation. He
desires no more than to show that revealed religion confers no
advantages which are not already secured by natural religion. "The
revealed law contains no moral precept which I do not find recommended
and practised under the law of nature; therefore it has taught us
nothing new upon morality. The revealed law has brought us no new truth;
for what is a truth but a proposition referring to an object, conceived
in terms which present clear ideas to me, and the connection of which
with one another is intelligible to me? Now revealed religion has
introduced no such propositions to us. What it has added to the natural
law consists of five or six propositions which are not a whit more
intelligible to me than if they were expressed in ancient Carthaginian,
inasmuch as the ideas represented by the terms, and the connection among
these ideas, escape me entirely."[38]

There is no sign in this piece that Diderot had examined the positive
grounds of natural religion, or that he was ready with any adequate
answer to the argument which Butler had brought forward in the previous
decade of the century. We do not see that he is aware as yet of there
being as valid objections on his own sceptical principles to the alleged
data of naturalistic deism, as to the pretensions of a supernatural
religion. He was content with Shaftesbury's position.

Shaftesbury's influence on Diderot was permanent. It did not long remain
so full and entire as it was now in the sphere of religious belief, but
the traces of it never disappeared from his notions on morals and art.
Shaftesbury's cheerfulness and geniality in philosophising were
thoroughly sympathetic to Diderot. The optimistic harmony which the
English philosopher, coming after Leibnitz, assumed as the
starting-point of his ethical and religious ideas, was not only highly
congenial to Diderot's sanguine temperament; it was a most attractive
way of escape from the disorderly and confused theological wilderness of
sin, asceticism, miracle, and the other monkeries. This naturalistic
religion may seem a very unsafe and comfortless halting-place to us. But
to men who heard of religion only in connection with the Bull Unigenitus
and confessional certificates, with some act of intolerance or cruelty,
with futile disputes about grace and the Five Propositions, the
naturalism which Shaftesbury taught in prose and Pope versified was like
the dawn after the foulness of night. Those who wished to soften the
inhuman rigour of the criminal procedure of the time[39] used to appeal
from customary ordinances and written laws to the law natural. The law
natural was announced to have preceded any law of human devising. In the
same way, those who wished to disperse the darkness of unintelligible
dogmas and degraded ecclesiastical usages, appealed to the simplicity,
light, and purity of that natural religion which was supposed to have
been overlaid and depraved by the special superstitions of the different
communities of the world.

"Pope's Essay on Man," wrote Voltaire after his return from England
(1728), "seems to me the finest didactic poem, the most useful, the most
sublime, that was ever written in any tongue. 'Tis true the whole
substance of it is to be found in Shaftesbury's Characteristics, and I
do not know why Pope gives all the honour of it to Bolingbroke, without
saying a word of the celebrated Shaftesbury, the pupil of Locke."[40]
The ground of this enthusiastic appreciation of the English naturalism
was not merely that it made morality independent of religion, which
Shaftesbury took great pains to do. It also identified religion with all
that is beautiful and harmonious in the universal scheme. It surrounded
the new faith with a pure and lofty poetry, that enabled it to confront
the old on more than equal terms of dignity and elevation. Shaftesbury,
and Diderot after him, ennobled human nature by placing the principle of
virtue, the sense of goodness, within the breast of man. Diderot held to
this idea throughout, as we shall see. That he did so explains a kind of
phraseology about virtue and morality in his letters to Madame Voland
and elsewhere, which would otherwise sound disagreeably like cant.
Finally, Shaftesbury's peculiar attribution of beauty to morality, his
reference of ethical matters to a kind of taste, the tolerably equal
importance attributed by him to a sense of beauty and to the moral
sense, all impressed Diderot with a mark that was not effaced. In the
text of the Inquiry the author pronounces it a childish affectation in
the eyes of any man who weighs things maturely to deny that there is in
moral beings, just as in corporeal objects, a true and essential beauty,
a real sublime. The eagerness with which Diderot seized on this idea
from the first, is shown in the declamatory foot-note which he here
appends to his original.[41] It was the source, by a process of
inverted application, of that ethical colouring in his criticisms on art
which made them so new and so interesting, because it carried æsthetic
beyond technicalities, and associated it with the real impulses and
circumstances of human life.[42]

One of Diderot's writings composed about our present date (1747), the
Promenade du Sceptique, did not see the light until after his death. His
daughter tells us that a police agent came one day to the house, and
proceeded to search the author's room. He found a manuscript, said,
"Good, that is what I am looking for," thrust it into his pocket, and
went away. Diderot did his best to recover his piece, but never
succeeded.[43] A copy of it came into the hands of Naigeon, and it seems
to have been retained by Malesherbes, the director of the press, out of
goodwill to the author. If it had been printed, it would certainly have
cost him a sojourn in Vincennes.

We have at first some difficulty in realising how he police could know
the contents of an obscure author's desk. For one thing we have to
remember that Paris, though it had been enormously increased in the days
of Law and the System (1719-20), was still of a comparatively manageable
size. In 1720, though the population of the whole realm was only
fourteen or fifteen millions, that of Paris had reached no less a figure
than a million and a half. After the explosion of the System, its
artificial expansion naturally came to an end. By the middle of the
century the highest estimate of the population does not make it much
more than eight hundred thousand.[44] This, unlike the socially
unwholesome and monstrous agglomerations of Paris or London in our own
time, was a population over which police supervision might be made
tolerably effective. It was more like a very large provincial town.
Again, the inhabitants were marked off into groups or worlds with a
definiteness that is now no longer possible. One-fifth of the
population, for instance, consisted of domestic servants.[45] There were
between twenty-eight and thirty thousand professional beggars.[46] The
legal circle was large, and was deeply engrossed by its own interests
and troubles. The world of authorship, though extremely noisy and
profoundly important, still made only a small group. One effect of a
censorship is to produce much gossip and whispering about suspected
productions before they see the light, and these whispers let the police
into as many secrets as they choose to know.

In Diderot's case, his unsuspecting good-nature to all comers made his
affairs accessible enough. His house was the resort of all the starving
hacks in Paris, and he has left us more than one graphic picture of the
literary drudge of that time. He writes, for instance, about a poor
devil to whom he had given a manuscript to copy. "The time for which he
had promised it to me expired, and as my man did not appear, I became
uneasy, and started in search of him. I found him in a hole about as big
as my fist, almost pitch-dark, without the smallest scrap of curtain or
hanging to cover the nakedness of his walls, a couple of straw-bottomed
chairs, a truckle-bed with a quilt riddled by the moths, a box in the
corner of the chimney and rags of every sort stuck upon it, a small tin
lamp to which a bottle served as support, and on a shelf some dozen
first-rate books. I sat talking there for three-quarters of an hour. My
man was as bare as a worm, lean, black, dry, but perfectly serene. He
said nothing, but munched his crust of bread with good appetite, and
bestowed a caress from time to time on his beloved, on the miserable
bedstead that took up two-thirds of his room. If I had never learnt
before that happiness resides in the soul, my Epictetus of Hyacinth
Street would have taught it me right thoroughly."[47]

The history of one of these ragged clients is to our point. "Among
those," he wrote to Madame Voland,[48] "whom chance and misery sent to
my address was one Glénat, who knew mathematics, wrote a good hand, and
was in want of bread. I did all I could to extricate him from his
embarrassments. I went begging for customers for him on every side. If
he came at meal-times, I would not let him go; if he lacked shoes, I
gave him them; now and then I slipped a shilling into his hands as well.
he had the air of the worthiest man in the world, and he even bore his
neediness with a certain gaiety that used to amuse me. I was fond of
chatting with him; he seemed to set little store by fortune, fame, and
most of the other things that charm or dazzle us in life. Seven or eight
days ago Damilaville wrote to send this man to him, for one of his
friends who had a manuscript for him to copy. I send him; the manuscript
is entrusted to him--a work on religion and government. I do not know
how it came about, but that manuscript is now in the hands of the
lieutenant of police. Damilaville gives me word of this. I hasten to my
friend Glénat, to warn him to count no more upon me. 'And why am I not
to count upon you?' 'Because you are a marked man. The police have their
eyes upon you and 'tis impossible to send work to you.' 'But, my dear
sir, there's no risk, so long as you entrust nothing reprehensible to my
hands. The police only come here when they scent game. I cannot tell how
they do it, but they are never mistaken.' 'Ah well, I at any rate know
how it is, and you have let me see much more in the matter than I
ever expected to learn from you,' and with that I turn my back on my
rascal." Diderot having occasion to visit the lieutenant of police,
introduced the matter, and could not withhold an energetic remonstrance
against such an odious abuse of a man's kindness of heart, as the
introduction of spies to his fireside. M. de Sartine laughed and Diderot
took his leave, vowing that all the wretches who should come to him for
the future, with cuffs dirty and torn, with holes in their stockings and
holes in their shoes, with hair all unkempt, in shabby overcoats with
many rents, or scanty black suits with starting seams, with all the
tones and looks of distressed worth, would henceforth seem to him no
better than police emissaries and scoundrels set to spy on him. The vow,
we may be sure, was soon forgotten, but the story shows how seriously in
one respect the man of letters in France was worse off than his brother
in England.

The world would have suffered no irreparable loss if the police had
thrown the Sceptic's Walk into the fire. It is an allegory designed to
contrast the life of religion, the life of philosophy, and the life of
sensual pleasure. Of all forms of composition, an allegory most depends
for its success upon the rapidity of the writer's eye for new
felicities. Accuracy, verisimilitude, sustention, count for nothing in
comparison with imaginative adroitness and variety. Bunyan had such an
eye, and so, with infinitely more vivacity, had Voltaire. Diderot had
not the deep sincerity or realism of conviction of the one; nor had he
the inimitable power of throwing himself into a fancy, that was
possessed by the other. He was the least agile, the least felicitous,
the least ready, of composers. His allegory of the avenue of thorns, the
avenue of chestnut-trees, and the avenue of flowers, is an allegory,
unskilful, obvious, poor, and not any more amusing than if it's matter
had been set forth without any attempt at fanciful decoration. The
blinded saints among the thorns, and the voluptuous sinners among the
flowers, are rather mechanical figures. The translation into the dialect
required by the allegorical situation, of a sceptic's aversion for gross
superstition on the one hand, and for gross hedonism on the other, is
forced and wooden. The most interesting of the three sections is the
second, containing a discussion in which the respective parts are taken
by a deist, a pantheist, a subjective idealist, a sceptic, and an
atheist. The allegory falls into the background, and we have a plain
statement of some of the objections that may be made by the sceptical
atheist both to revelation and to natural religion. A starry sky calls
forth the usual glorification of the maker of so much beauty. "That is
all imagination," rejoins the atheist. "It is mere presumption. We have
before us an unknown machine, on which certain observations have been
made. Ignorant people who have only examined a single wheel of it, of
which they hardly know more than a tooth or two, form conjectures upon
the way in which their cogs fit in with a hundred thousand other wheels.
And then to finish like artisans, they label the work with the name of
it's author."

The defender justifies this by the argument from a repeater-watch, of
which Paley and others have made so much use. We at once ascribe the
structure and movement of a repeater-watch to intelligent creation.
"No--things are not equal," says the atheist. "You are comparing a
finished work, whose origin and manufacture we know, to an infinite
piece of complexity, whose beginnings, whose present condition, and
whose end are all alike unknown, and about whose author you have nothing
better than guesses."

But does not its structure announce an author? "No; you do not see who
nor what he is. Who told you that the order you admire here belies
itself nowhere else? Are you allowed to conclude from a point in space
to infinite space? You pile a vast piece of ground with earth-heaps
thrown here or there by chance, but among which the worm and the ant
find convenient dwelling-places enough. What would you think of these
insects, if, reasoning after your fashion, they fell into raptures over
the intelligence of the gardener who had arranged all these materials so
delightfully for their convenience?"[49]

In this rudimentary form the chief speaker presses some of the
objections to optimistic deism from the point of view of the fixed
limitations, the inevitable relativity, of human knowledge. This kind of
objection had been more pithily expressed by Pascal long before, in the
famous article of his Thoughts, on the difficulty of demonstrating the
existence of a deity by light of nature.[50] Diderot's argument does not
extend to dogmatic denial. It only shows that the deist is exposed to an
attack from the same sceptical armoury from which he had drawn his own
weapons for attacking revelation. It is impossible to tell how far
Diderot went at this moment. The trenchancy with which his atheist urges
his reasoning, proves that the writer was fully alive to its force. On
the other hand, the atheist is left in the midst of a catastrophe. On
his return home, he finds his children murdered, his house pillaged, and
his wife carried off. And we are told that he could not complain on his
own principles.

If the absence of witnesses allowed the robber to commit his crime with
impunity, why should he not? Again, there is a passage in which the
writer seems to be speaking his own opinions. An interlocutor maintains
the importance of keeping the people in bondage to certain prejudices.
"What prejudices? If a man once admits the existence of a God, the
reality of moral good and evil, the immortality of the soul, future
rewards and punishments, what need has he of prejudices? Supposing him
initiated in all the mysteries of transubstantiation, consubstantiation,
the Trinity, hypostatical union, predestination, incarnation, and the
rest, will he be any the better citizen?"[51]

In truth, Diderot's mind was at this time floating in an atmosphere of
rationalistic negation, and the moral of his piece, as he hints, points
first to the extravagance of Catholicism, next to the vanity of the
pleasures of the world, and lastly, to the unfathomable uncertainty of
philosophy. Still, we may discern a significant leaning towards the
theory of the eternity of matter, which has arranged itself and assumed
variety of form by virtue of its inherent quality of motion.[52]

It is a characteristic and displeasing mark of the time that Diderot in
the midst of these serious speculations, should have set himself (1748)
to the composition of a story in the kind which the author of the _Sofa_
had made highly popular. The mechanism of this deplorable piece is more
grossly disgusting--I mean æsthetically, not morally--than anything to
be found elsewhere in the too voluminous library of impure literature.
The idea would seem to have been borrowed from one of the old
Fabliaux.[53] But what is tolerable in the quaint and _naïf_ verse of
the twelfth or thirteenth century, becomes shocking when deliberately
rendered by a grave man into bald unblushing prose of the eighteenth.
The humour, the rich sparkle, the wit, the merry _gaillardise_, have all
vanished; we are left with the vapid dregs of an obscene anachronism.
Mr. Carlyle, who knows how to be manly in these matters, and affects
none of the hypocritical airs of our conventional criticism, yet has not
more energetically than truly pronounced this "the beastliest of all
past, present, or future dull novels." As "the next mortal creature,
even a Reviewer, again compelled to glance into that book," I have felt
the propriety of our humorist's injunction to such a one, "to bathe
himself in running water, put on change of raiment, and be unclean until
the even." Diderot himself, as might have been expected, soon had the
grace to repent him of this shameful book, and could never hear it
mentioned without a very lively embarrassment.[54]

As I have said before,[55] it was such books as this, as Crébillon's
novels, as Duclos's Confessions du Comte X., and the dissoluteness of
manners indicated by them, which invested Rousseau's New Heloïsa
(1761) with its delightful and irresistible fascinations. Having
pointed out elsewhere the significance of the licentiousness from
which the philosophic party did not escape untainted,[56] I need not
here do more than make two short remarks. First, the corruption which
had seized the court after the death of Lewis XIV. in the course of a
few years had reached the middle class in the town. The loosening of
social fibre, caused by the insenate speculation at the time of Law,
no doubt furthered the spread of demoralisation. Second, the reaction
against the Church involved among its other elements a passionate
contempt for all asceticism. This happened to fall in with the
general relaxation of morals that followed Lewis's gloomy rigour.
Consequently even men of pure life, like Condorcet, carried the
theoretical protest against asceticism so far as to vindicate the
practical immorality of the time. This is one of those enormous
drawbacks that people seldom take into account when they are
enumerating the blessings of superstition. Mediæval superstition had
produced some advantages, but now came the set-off. Durable morality
had been associated with a transitory religious faith. The faith fell
into intellectual discredit, and sexual morality shared its decline
for a short season. This must always be the natural consequence of
building sound ethics on the shifting sands and rotting foundations
of theology.

Such literature as these tales of Diderot's, was the mirror both of the
ordinary practical sentiment and the philosophic theory. A nation pays
dearly for one of those outbreaks, when they happen to stamp themselves
in a literary form that endures. There are those who hold that Louvet's
Faublas is to this day a powerful agent in the depravation of the youth
of France. Diderot, however, had not the most characteristic virtues of
French writing; he was no master in the art of the _naïf_, nor in
delicate malice, nor in sprightly cynicism. His book, consequently, has
not lived, and we need not waste more words upon it. _Chaque esprit a sa
lie_, wrote one who for a while had sat at Diderot's feet;[57] and we
may dismiss this tale as the lees of Diderot's strong, careless,
sensualised understanding. He was afterwards the author of a work, La
Religieuse, on which the superficial critic may easily pour out the
vials of affected wrath. There, however, he was executing a profound
pathological study in a serious spirit. If the subject is horrible, we
have to blame the composition of human character, or the mischievousness
of a human institution. La Religieuse is no continuation of the vein of
defilement which began and ended with the story of 1748--a story which
is one among so many illustrations of Guizot's saying about the
eighteenth century, that it was the most tempting and seductive of all
centuries, for it promised full satisfaction at once to all the
greatnesses of humanity and to all its weaknesses. Hettner quotes a
passage from the minor writings of Niebuhr, in which the historian
compares Diderot with Petronius, as having both of them been honest and
well-intentioned men, who in shameless times were carried towards
cynicism by their deep contempt for the prevailing vice. "If Diderot
were alive now," says Niebuhr, "and if Petronius had only lived in the
fourth instead of the third century, then the painting of obscenity
would have been odious to them, and the inducement to it infinitely
smaller."[58] There is no trace in Diderot of this deep contempt for the
viciousness of his time. All that can be said is that he did not escape
it in his earlier years, in spite of the natural wholesomeness and
rectitude of his character.

It is worthy of remark that the dissoluteness of the middle portion of
the century was not associated with the cynical and contemptuous view
about women that usually goes with relaxed morality. There was a more or
less distinct consciousness of a truth which has ever since grown into
clearer prominence with the advance of thought since the Revolution. It
is that the sphere and destiny of women are among the three or four
foremost questions in social improvement. This is now perceived on all
sides, profound as are the differences of opinion upon the proper
solution of the problem. A hundred years ago this perception was vague
and indefinite, but there was an unmistakable apprehension that the
Catholic ideal of womanhood was no more adequate to the facts of life,
than Catholic views about science, or property, or labour, or political
order and authority.

Diderot has left some curious and striking reflections upon the fate and
character of women. He gives no signs of feeling after social
reorganisation; he only speaks as one brooding in uneasy meditation over
a very mournful perplexity. There is no sentimentalising, after the
fashion of Jean Jacques. He does not neglect the plain physical facts,
about which it is so difficult in an age of morbid reserve to speak with
freedom, yet about which it is fatal to be silent. He indulged in none
of those mischievous flatteries of women, which satisfy narrow
observers, or coxcombs, or the uxorious. "Never forget," he said, "that
for lack of reflection and principles, nothing penetrates down to a
certain profoundness of conviction in the understanding of women. The
ideas of justice, virtue, vice, goodness, badness, float on the surface
of their souls. They have preserved self-love and personal interest with
all the energy of nature. Although more civilized than we are outwardly,
they have remained true savages inwardly.... It is in the passion of
love, the access of jealousy, the transports of maternal tenderness, the
instants of superstition, the way in which they show epidemic and
popular notions, that women amaze us; fair as the seraphin of Klopstock,
terrible as the fiends of Milton.... The distractions of a busy and
contentious life break up our passions. A woman, on the contrary, broods
over her passions; they are a fixed point on which her idleness or the
frivolity of her duties holds her attention fast.... Impenetrable in
dissimulation, cruel in vengeance, tenacious in their designs, without
scruples about the means of success, animated by a deep and secret
hatred against the despotism of man--it seems as if there were among
them a sort of league, such as exists among the priests of all
nations.... The symbol of women in general is that of the Apocalypse, on
the front of which is inscribed _Mystery_.... If we have more reason
than women have, they have far more instinct than we have."[59] All this
was said in no bitterness, but in the spirit of the strong observer.

Cynical bitterness is as misplaced as frivolous adulation. Diderot had a
deep pity for women. Their physical weaknesses moved him to compassion.
To these are added the burden of their maternal function, and the burden
of unequal laws. "The moment which shall deliver the girl from
subjection to her parents is come; her imagination opens to a future
thronged by chimæras; her heart swims in secret delight. Rejoice while
thou canst, luckless creature! Time would have weakened the tyranny that
thou hast left; time will strengthen the tyranny that awaits thee. They
choose a husband for her. She becomes a mother. It is in anguish, at the
peril of their lives, at the cost of their charms, often to the damage
of their health, that they give birth to their little ones. The organs
that mark their sex are subject to two incurable maladies. There is,
perhaps, no joy comparable to that of the mother as she looks on her
first-born; but the moment is dearly bought. Time advances, beauty
passes; there come the years of neglect, of spleen, of weariness. 'Tis
in pain that Nature disposes them for maternity; in pain and illness,
dangerous and prolonged, she brings maternity to its close. What is a
woman after that? Neglected by her husband, left by her children, a
nullity in society, then piety becomes her one and last resource. In
nearly every part of the world, the cruelty of the civil laws against
women is added to the cruelty of Nature. They have been treated like
weak-minded children. There is no sort of vexation which, among
civilised peoples, man cannot inflict upon woman with impunity."[60]

The thought went no further, in Diderot's mind, than this pathetic
ejaculation. He left it to the next generation, to Condorcet and others,
to attack the problem practically; effectively to assert the true theory
that we must look to social emancipation in women, and moral discipline
in men, to redress the physical disadvantages. Meanwhile Diderot
deserves credit for treating the position and character of women in a
civilised society with a sense of reality; and for throwing aside those
faded gallantries of poetic and literary convention, that screen a broad
and dolorous gulf.



It is a common prejudice to treat Voltaire as if he had done nothing
save write the Pucelle and mock at Habakkuk. Every serious and
instructed student knows better. Voltaire's popularisation of the
philosophy of Newton (1738) was a stimulus of the greatest importance to
new thought in France. In a chapter of this work he had explained with
his usual matchless terseness and lucidity Berkeley's theory of vision.
The principle of this theory is, as every one knows, that figures,
magnitudes, situations, distances, are not sensations but inferences;
they are not the immediate revelations of sight, but the products of
association and intellectual construction; they are not directly judged
by vision, but by imagination and experience. If this be so, neither
situation, nor distance, nor magnitude, nor figure, would be at once
discerned by one born blind, supposing him suddenly to receive sight.
Voltaire then describes the results of the operation performed by
Cheselden (1728) on a lad who had been blind from his birth. This
experiment was believed to confirm all that Locke and Berkeley had
foreseen, for it was long before the patient could distinguish objects
by size, distance, or shape.[61] Condillac had renewed the interest
which Voltaire had first kindled in the subject, by referring to
Cheselden's experiment in his first work, which was published in

It happened that in 1748 Réaumur couched the eyes of a girl who had been
born blind. Diderot sought to be admitted to the operation, but the
favour was denied him, and he expressed his resentment in terms which,
as we shall see, cost him very dear. As he could not witness the
experiment, he began to meditate upon the subject, and the result was
the _Letter on the Blind for the Use of those who See_. published in
1749--the date, it may be observed in passing, of another very important
work in the development of materialistic speculation, David Hartley's
_Observations on man, his frame, his duty, and his expectations_.
Diderot's real disappointment at not being admitted to the operation was
slight. In a vigorous passage he shows the difficulties in the way of
conducting such an experiment under the conditions necessary to make it
conclusive. To prepare the born-blind to answer philosophical
interrogatories truly, and then to put these interrogatories rightly,
would have been a feat, he declares, not unworthy of the united talents
of Newton, Descartes, Locke, and Leibnitz. Unless the patient were
placed in such conditions as this, Diderot thinks there would be more
profit in questioning a blind person of good sense, than in the answers
of an uneducated person receiving sight for the first time under
abnormal and bewildering circumstances.[63] In this he was undoubtedly
right. If the experiment could be prepared under the delicate conditions
proper to make it demonstrative evidence, it would be final. But the
experiment had certainly not been so prepared in his time, and probably
never will be.[64]

Read in the light of the rich and elaborate speculative literature which
England is producing in our own day, Diderot's once famous Letter on the
Blind seems both crude and loose in its thinking. Yet considering the
state of philosophy in France at the time of its appearance, we are
struck by the acuteness, the good sense, and the originality of many of
its positions. It was the first effective introduction into France of
these great and fundamental principles; that all knowledge is relative
to our intelligence, that thought is not the measure of existence, nor
the conceivableness of a proposition the test of its truth, and that our
experience is not the limit to the possibilities of things. That is an
impatient criticism which dismisses the French philosophers with some
light word as radically shallow and impotent. Diderot grasped the
doctrine of Relativity in some of the most important and far-reaching of
all its bearings. The fact that he and his allies used the doctrine as a
weapon of combat against the standing organisation, is exactly what
makes their history worth writing about. The standing organisation was
the antagonistic doctrine incarnate. It made anthropomorphism and the
absolute the very base and spring alike of individual and of social
life. No growth was possible until this speculative base had been
transformed. Hence the profound significance of what looks like a mere
discussion of one of the minor problems of metaphysics. Diderot was not
the first to discover Relativity, nor did he establish it; but it was he
who introduced it into the literature of his country at the moment when
circumstances were ripe for it.

Condillac, as we have said, had published his first work, the Essay on
the Origin of Human Knowledge, three years before (1746). This was a
simple and undeveloped rendering of the doctrine of Locke, that the
ultimate source of our notions lies in impressions made upon the senses,
shaped and combined by reflection. It was not until 1754 that Condillac
published his more celebrated treatise on the Sensations, in which he
advanced a stride beyond Locke, and instead of tracing our notions to
the double source of sensation and reflection, maintained that
reflection itself is nothing but sensation "differently transformed." In
the first book, again, he had disputed Berkeley's theory of vision: in
the second, he gave a reasoned adhesion to it. Now Diderot and Condillac
had first been brought together by Rousseau, when all three were needy
wanderers about the streets of Paris. They used to dine together once a
week at a tavern, and it was Diderot who persuaded a bookseller to give
Condillac a hundred crowns for his first manuscript. "The Paris
booksellers," says Rousseau, "are very arrogant and harsh to beginners;
and metaphysics, then extremely little in fashion, did not offer a very
particularly attractive subject."[65] The constant intercourse between
Diderot and Condillac in the interval between the two works of the great
apostle of Sensationalism, may well account for the remarkable
development in doctrine. This is one of the many examples of the share
of Diderot's energetic and stimulating intelligence, in directing and
nourishing the movement of the time, its errors and precipitancies
included. On the other hand, the share of Condillac in providing a text
for Diderot's first considerable performance, is equally evident.

The Letter on the Blind is an inquiry how far a modification of the five
senses, such as the congenital absence of one of them, would involve a
corresponding modification of the ordinary notions acquired by men who
are normally endowed in their capacity for sensation. It considers the
Intellect in a case where it is deprived of one of the senses. The
writer opens with an account of a visit made by himself and some friends
to a man born blind at Puisaux, a place seventy miles from Paris. They
asked him in what way he thought of the eyes. "They are an organ on
which the air produces the same effect as my stick upon my hand." A
mirror he described "as a machine which sets things in relief away from
themselves, if they are properly placed in relation to it." This
conception had formed itself in his mind in the following way. The blind
man only knows objects by touch. He is aware, on the testimony of
others, that we know objects by sight as he knows them by touch; he can
form no other notion. He is aware, again, that a man cannot see his own
face, though he can touch it. Sight, then, he concludes, is a sort of
touch, which only extends to objects different from our own visage, and
remote from us. Now touch only conveys to him the idea of relief. A
mirror, therefore, must be a machine which sets us in relief out of
ourselves. How many philosophers, cries Diderot, have employed less
subtlety to reach notions just as untrue?

The born-blind had a memory for sound in a surprising degree, and
countenances do not present more diversity to us than he observed in
voices. The voice has for such persons an infinite number of delicate
shades that escape us, because we have not the same reason for
attention that the blind have. The help that our senses lend to one
another, is an obstacle to their perfection.

The blind man said he should have been tempted to regard persons endowed
with sight as superior intelligences, if he had not found out a hundred
times how inferior we are in other respects. How do we know--Diderot
reflects upon this--that all the animals do not reason in the same way,
and look upon themselves as our equals or superiors, notwithstanding our
more complex and efficient intelligence? They may accord to us a reason
with which we should still have much need of their instinct while they
claim to be endowed with an instinct which enables them to do very well
without our reason.

When asked whether he should be glad to have sight, the born-blind
replied that, apart from curiosity, he would be just as well pleased to
have long arms: his hands would tell him what is going on in the moon,
better than our eyes or telescopes; and the eyes cease to see earlier
than the hands lose the sense of touch. It would therefore be just as
good to perfect in him the organ that he had, as to confer upon him
another which he had not. This is untrue. No conceivable perfection of
touch would reveal phenomena of light, and the longest arms must leave
those phenomena undisclosed.

After recounting various other peculiarities of thought, Diderot notices
that the blind man attaches slight importance to the sense of shame. He
would hardly understand the utility of clothes, for instance, except as
a protection against cold. He frankly told his philosophising visitors
that he could not see why one part of the body should be covered rather
than another. "I have never doubted," says Diderot, "that the state of
our organs and senses has much influence both on our metaphysics and our
morality." This, I may observe, does not in the least show that in a
society of human beings, not blind, but endowed with vision, the sense
of physical shame is a mere prejudice of which philosophy will rid us.
The fact that a blind man discerns no ill in nakedness, has no bearing
on the value or naturalness of shame among people with eyes. And
moreover, the fact that delicacy or shame is not a universal human
impulse, but is established, and its scope defined, by a varying
etiquette, does not in the least affect the utility or wisdom of such an
artificial establishment and definition. The grounds of delicacy, though
connected with the senses, are fixed by considerations that spring from
the social reason. It seems to be true, as Diderot says, that the
born-blind are at first without physical delicacy; because delicacy has
its root in the consciousness that we are observed, while the born-blind
are not conscious that they are observed. It is found that one of the
most important parts of their education is to impress this knowledge
upon them.[66]

But the artificiality of a moral acquisition is obviously no test of
its worth, nor of the reasons for preserving it. Diderot exclaims, "Ah,
madam, how different is the morality of a blind man from ours; and how
the morality of the deaf would differ from that of the blind; and if a
being should have a sense more than we have, how wofully imperfect would
he find our morality!" This is plainly a crude and erroneous way of
illustrating the important truth of the strict relativity of ethical
standards and maxims. Diderot speaks as if they were relative simply and
solely to our five wits, and would vary with them only. Everybody now
has learnt that morality depends not merely on the five wits, but on the
mental constitution within, and on the social conditions without. It is
to these rather than to the number of our senses, that moral ideas are

Passing over various other remarks, we come to those pages in the Letter
which apply the principle of relativity to the master-conception of God.
Diderot's argument on this point naturally drew keener attention than
the more disinterestedly scientific parts of his contribution. People
were not strongly agitated by the question whether a blind man who had
learned to distinguish a sphere from a cube by touch, would instantly
identify each of them if he received sight.[67]

The question whether a blind man has as good reasons for believing in
the existence of a God as a man with sight can find, was of more vivid
interest. As a matter of fact, Diderot's treatment of the narrower
question (pp. 324, etc.) is more closely coherent than his treatment of
the wider one, for the simple reason that the special limitation of
experience in the born-blind cannot fairly be made to yield any decisive
evidence on the great, the insoluble enigma.

Here, as in the other part of his essay, Diderot followed the method of
interrogating the blind themselves. In this instance, he turned to the
most extraordinary example in history, of intellectual mastery and
scientific penetration in one who practically belonged to the class of
the born-blind; and this too in dealing with subjects where sight might
be thought most indispensable. From 1711 to 1739 one of the professors
of mathematics at Cambridge was Nicholas Saunderson, who had lost his
sight before he was twelve months old. He was a man of striking mental
vigour, an original and efficient teacher, and the author of a book upon
algebra which was considered meritorious in its day. His knowledge of
optics was highly remarkable. He had distinct ideas of perspective, of
the projections of the sphere, and of the forms assumed by plane or
solid figures in certain positions. For performing computations he
devised a machine of great ingenuity, which also served the purpose,
with certain modifications, of representing geometrical diagrams. In
religion he was a sceptic or something more, and in his last hours
Diderot supposes him to have engaged in a discussion with a minister of
religion, upon the arguments for the existence of a deity drawn from
final causes. This discussion Diderot professes to reproduce, and he
makes Saunderson discourse with much eloquence and some pathos.

By one of those mystifications which make the French polemical
literature of the eighteenth century the despair of bibliographers,
Diderot cites as his authority a _Life of Saunderson_, by Dr. Inchlif.
He sets forth the title with great circumstantiality, but no such book
exists or ever did exist. The Royal Society of London, however, took the
jest of fathering atheism on one of its members in bad part, and Diderot
was systematically excluded from the honour of admission to that learned
body, as he was excluded all his life from the French Academy.

The reasoning which Diderot puts into the professor's mouth is at first
a fervid enlargement of the text, that the argument drawn from the
wonders of nature is very weak evidence for blind men. Our power of
creating new objects, so to speak, by means of a little mirror, is far
more incomprehensible to them, than the stars which they have been
condemned never to behold. The luminous ball that moves from east to
west through the heavens, is a less astonishing thing to them than the
fire on the hearth which they can lessen or augment at pleasure.[68]
"Why talk to me," says Saunderson, "of all that fine spectacle which has
never been made for me? I have been condemned to pass my life in
darkness; and you cite marvels that I cannot understand, and that are
only evidence for you and for those who see as you do. If you want me to
believe in God, you must make me touch him." The minister replied that
the sense of touch ought to be enough to reveal the divinity to him in
the admirable mechanism of his organs. To this, Saunderson:--"I repeat,
all that is not as fine for me as it is for you. But the animal
mechanism, even were it as perfect as you pretend, and as I daresay it
is--what has it in common with a Being of sovereign intelligence? If it
fills you with astonishment, that is perhaps because you are in the
habit of treating as a prodigy anything that strikes you as being beyond
your own strength. I have been myself so often an object of admiration
for you, that I have a poor opinion of what surprises you. I have
attracted people from all parts of England, who could not conceive by
what means I could work at geometry. Well, you must agree that such
persons had not very exact notions about the possibility of things. Is a
phenomenon in our notions beyond the power of man? Then we instantly
say--_'Tis the handiwork of a God_. Nothing short of that can content
our vanity. Why can we not contrive to throw into our talk less pride
and more philosophy? If nature offers us some knot that is hard to
untie, let us leave it for what it is; do not let us employ for cutting
it the hand of a Being, who then immediately becomes in turn a new knot
for us, and a knot harder to untie than the first. An Indian tells you
that our globe is suspended in the air on the back of an elephant. And
the elephant! It stands on a tortoise. And the tortoise? what sustains
that?... You pity the Indian: and yet one might very well say to you as
to him--Mr. Holmes, my good friend, confess your ignorance, and spare me
elephant and tortoise."[69]

The minister very naturally then falls back upon good authority, and
asks Saunderson to take the word of Newton, Clarke, and Leibnitz. The
blind man answers that though the actual state of the universe may be
the illustration of a marvellous and admirable order, still Newton,
Clarke, and Leibnitz must leave him freedom of opinion as to its earlier
states. And then he foreshadows in a really singular and remarkable way
that theory which is believed to be the great triumph of scientific
discovery, and which is certainly the great stimulus to speculation, in
our own time. As to anterior states "you have no witnesses to confront
with me, and your eyes give you no help. Imagine, if you choose, that
the order which strikes you so profoundly has subsisted from the
beginning. But leave me free to think that it has done no such thing,
and that if we went back to the birth of things and scenes, and
perceived matter in motion and chaos slowly disentangling itself, we
should come across a whole multitude of shapeless creatures, instead of
a very few creatures highly organised. If I have no objection to make to
what you say about the present condition of things, I may at least
question you as to their past condition. I may at least ask of you, for
example, who told you--you and Leibnitz and Clarke and Newton--that in
the first instances of the formation of animals, some were not without
heads and others without feet? I may maintain that these had no
stomachs, and those no intestines; that some to whom a stomach, a
palate, and teeth seemed to promise permanence, came to an end through
some fault of heart or lungs; that the monsters annihilated one another
in succession, that all the faulty (_vicieuses_) combinations of matter
disappeared, and that _those only survived whose mechanism implied no
important mis-adaptation_ (contradiction), _and who had the power of
supporting and perpetuating themselves_.

"On this hypothesis, if the first man had happened to have his larynx
closed, or had not found suitable food, or had been defective in the
parts of generation, or had failed to find a mate, then what would have
become of the human race? It would have been still enfolded in the
general depuration of the universe; and that arrogant being who calls
himself Man, dissolved and scattered among the molecules of matter,
would perhaps have remained for all time hidden in the number of mere

"If shapeless creatures had never existed, you would not fail to insist
that none will ever appear, and that I am throwing myself headlong into
chimerical hypotheses. But the order is not even now so perfect, but
that monstrous products appear from time to time."[70]

We have here a distinct enough conception, though in an exceedingly
undigested shape, first, of incessant Variability in organisms as an
actual circumstance, which we may see exemplified in its extreme form in
the monstrous deviations of structure that occur from time to time
before our own eyes; second, of Adaptation to environment as the
determining condition of Survival among the forms that present
themselves. Even as a bald and unsustained guess, this was an effective
side-blow at the doctrine of final causes--a doctrine, as has been often
remarked, which does not survive, in any given set of phenomena, the
reduction of these phenomena to terms of matter and motion.

"I conjecture then," continues Saunderson, enlarging the idea of the
possibilities of matter and motion, "that in the beginning when matter
in fermentation gradually brought our universe bursting into being,
blind creatures like myself were very common. But why should I not
believe of worlds what I believe of animals? How many worlds, mutilated
and imperfect, were peradventure dispersed, then re-formed, and are
again dispersing at each moment of time in those far-off spaces which I
cannot touch and you cannot behold, but where motion combines and will
continue to combine masses of matter, until they have chanced on some
arrangement in which they may finally persevere! O philosophers,
transport yourselves with me on to the confines of the universe, beyond
the point where I feel, and you see, organised beings; gaze over that
new ocean, and seek across its lawless, aimless heavings some vestiges
of that intelligent Being whose wisdom strikes you with such wonder

"What is this world? A complex whole, subject to endless revolutions.
All these revolutions show a continual tendency to destruction; a swift
succession of beings who follow one another, press forward, and vanish;
a fleeting symmetry; the order of a moment. I reproached you just now
with estimating the perfection of things by your own capacity; and I
might accuse you here of measuring its duration by the length of your
own days. You judge of the continuous existence of the world, as an
ephemeral insect might judge of yours. The world is eternal for you, as
you are eternal to the being that lives but for one instant. Yet the
insect is the more reasonable of the two. For what a prodigious
succession of ephemeral generations attests your eternity! What an
immeasurable tradition! Yet shall we all pass away, without the
possibility of assigning either the real extension that we filled in
space, or the precise time that we shall have endured. Time, matter,
space--all, it may be, are no more than a point."[71]

Diderot sent a copy of his work to Voltaire. The poet replied with his
usual playful politeness, but declared his dissent from Saunderson, "who
denied God, because he happened to have been born blind."[72] More
pretentious, and infinitely less acute critics than Voltaire, have fixed
on the same point in the argument and met it by the same answer; namely,
that, blind as he was, Saunderson ought to have recognised an
intelligent Being who had provided him with so many substitutes for
sight; he ought to have inferred a skilful demiurgus from those ordered
relations in the universe, which Thought, independently of Vision, might
well have disclosed to him. In truth, this is not the centre of the
whole argument. When Saunderson implies that he could only admit a God
on condition that he could touch him, he makes a single sense the
channel of all possible ideas, and the arbiter of all reasoned
combinations of ideas. This is absurd, and Diderot, as we have seen,
rapidly passed away from that to the real strength of the position. All
the rest of the contention against final causes would have come just as
fitly from the lips of a man with vision, as from Saunderson. The
hypothetical inference of a deity from the marvels of adaptation to be
found in the universe is unjustified, among other reasons, because it
ignores or leaves unexplained the marvels of mis-adaptation in the
universe. It makes absolute through eternity a hypothesis which can at
its best only be true relatively--not merely to the number of our
senses, but--to a few partially chosen phenomena of our own little day.
It explains a few striking facts; it leaves wholly unexplained a far
greater number of equally striking facts, even if it be not directly
contradicted by them. It is the invention of an imaginary agency to
account for the scanty successes of creation, and an attribution to that
agency of the kind of motives that might have animated a benevolent
European living in the eighteenth century. It leaves wholly unaccounted
for the prodigious host of monstrous or imperfect organisms, and the
appalling law of merciless and incessant destruction.

To us this is the familiar discussion of the day. But let us return to
the starting-point of this chapter. In France a hundred and twenty years
ago it was the first opening of a decisive breach in the walls that had
sheltered the men of Western Europe against outer desolation for some
fifteen centuries or more. The completeness of Catholicism, as a
self-containing system of life and thought, is now harder for
Protestants or Sceptics to realise, than any other fact in the whole
history of human society. Catholicism was not only an institution, nor
only a religious faith; it was also a philosophy and a systematised
theory of the universe. The Church during its best age directed the
moral relations of individual men, and attempted, more or less
successfully, to humanise the relations of communities. It satisfied or
stimulated the affections by its exaltation of the Virgin Mary as a
supreme object of worship; it nourished the imagination on polytheistic
legends of saints and martyrs; it stirred the religious emotions by
touching and impressive rites; it surrounded its members with emblems of
a special and invincible protection. Catholicism, we have again and
again to repeat, claimed to deal with life as a whole, and to leave no
province of nature, no faculty of man, no need of intelligence or
spirit, uncomprehended. But we must not forget that, though this
prodigious system had its root in the affections and sympathies of human
nature, it was also fenced round by a theory of metaphysic. It rested
upon authority and tradition, but it also sought an expression in an
intellectual philosophy of things. The essence of this philosophy was to
make man the final cause of the universe. Its interpretation of the
world was absolute; its conception of the Creator was absolute; its
account of our intellectual impressions, of our moral rules, of our
spiritual ideals, made them all absolute. Now Diderot, when he wrote the
Letter on the Blind, perceived that mere rationalistic attacks upon the
sacred books, upon the miracles, upon the moral types, of Catholicism,
could only be partially effective for destruction, and could have no
effect at all in replacing the old ways of thinking by others of more
solid truth. The attack must begin in philosophy. The first fruitful
process must consist in shifting the point of view, in enlarging the
range of the facts to be considered, in pressing the relativity of our
ideas, in freeing ourselves from the tyranny of anthropomorphism.

Hobbes's witty definition of the papacy as the ghost of the old Roman
Empire sitting enthroned on the grave thereof, may tempt us to forget
the all-important truth that the basis of the power of the ghost was
essentially different from that of the dissolved body. The Empire was a
political organisation, resting on military force. The Church was a
social organisation, made vital by a conviction. The greatest fact in
the intellectual history of the eighteenth century is the decisive
revolution that overtook that sustaining conviction. The movement and
the men whom we are studying owe all their interest to the share that
they had in this immense task. The central conception, that the universe
was called into existence only to further its Creator's purpose towards
man, became incredible. This absolute proposition was slowly displaced
by notions of the limitation of human faculties, and of the
comparatively small portion of the whole cosmos or chaos to which we
have reason to believe that these faculties give us access. To
substitute this relative point of view for the absolute, was the
all-important preliminary to the effectual breaking up of the great
Catholic construction.

What seems to careless observers a mere metaphysical dispute was in
truth, and still is, the decisive quarter of the great battle between
theology and a philosophy reconcilable with science. When the Catholic
reaction set in, Joseph de Maistre, by far its acutest champion in the
region of philosophy, at once made it his first business to attack the
principle of relativity with all his force of dialectic, and to
reinstate absolute modes of thinking, and the absolute quality of
Catholic propositions about religion, knowledge, and government.[73] Yet
neither he nor any one else on his side has ever effectively shaken the
solid argument which Diderot fancifully illustrated in the following
passage from his reply to Voltaire's letter of thanks for the opuscule:
"This marvellous order and these wondrous adaptations, what am I to
think of them? That they are metaphysical entities only existing in your
own mind. You cover a vast piece of ground with a mass of ruins falling
hither or thither at hazard; amid these the worm and the ant find
commodious shelter enough. What would you say of these insects, if they
were to take for real and final entities the relations of the places
which they inhabit to their organisation, and then fall into ecstasies
over the beauty of their subterranean architecture, and the wonderfully
superior intelligence of the gardener who arranges things so
conveniently for them?"[74] This is the notion which Voltaire himself
three years afterwards illustrated in the witty fancies of
_Micromégas_. The little animalcule in the square cap, who makes the
giant laugh in a Homeric manner by its inflated account of itself as the
final cause of the universe, is the type of the philosophy on which
Catholicism is based.

In the same letter Diderot avows his dissent--hypocritically, we find
reason for suspecting--from Saunderson's conclusion. "It is commonly in
the night-time," he says, "that the mists arise which obscure in me the
existence of God; the rising of the sun never fails to scatter them. But
then the darkness is ever-enduring for the blind, and the sun only rises
for those who see." Diderot's denial of atheism seems more than
suspicious, when one finds him taking so much pains to make out
Saunderson's case for him, when he urges the argument following, for
instance: "If there had never existed any but material beings, there
would never have been spiritual beings; for then the spiritual beings
would either have given themselves existence, or else would have
received it from the material beings. But if there had never existed any
but spiritual beings, you will see that there would never have been
material beings. Right philosophy only allows me to suppose in things
what I can distinctly perceive in them. Now I perceive no other
faculties distinctly in the mind except those of willing and thinking,
and I no more conceive that thought and will can act on material beings
or on nothing, than I can conceive material beings or nothing acting on
spiritual beings." And he winds up his letter thus: "It is very
important not to take hemlock for parsley; but not important at all to
believe or to disbelieve in God. The world, said Montaigne, is a
tennis-ball that he has given to philosophers to toss hither and
thither; and I would say nearly as much of the Deity himself."[75]

In concluding our account of this piece, we may mention that Diderot
threw out a hint, which is a good illustration of the alert and
practically helpful way in which his mind was always seeking new ideas.
We have common signs, he said, appealing to the eye, namely, written
characters, and others appealing to the ear, namely, articulate sounds;
we have none appealing to touch. "For want of such a language,
communication is entirely broken between us and those who are born deaf,
dumb, and blind. They grow, but they remain in a state of imbecility.
Perhaps they would acquire ideas, if we made ourselves understood by
them from childhood in a fixed, determinate, constant, and uniform
manner; in short, if we traced on their hand the same characters that we
trace upon paper, and invariably attached the same significance to
them."[76] The patient benevolence and ingenuity of Dr. Howe of Boston
has realised in our own day the value of Diderot's suggestion.

One or two trifling points of literary interest may be noticed in the
Letter on the Blind. Diderot refers to "the ingenious expression of an
English geometer that _God geometrises_" (p. 294). He is unaware
apparently of the tradition which attributes the expression to Plato,
though it is not found in Plato's writings. Plutarch, I believe, is the
first person who mentions the saying, and discusses what Plato exactly
meant by it. In truth, it is one of that large class of dicta which look
more ingenious than they are true. There is a fine Latin passage by
Barrow on the mighty geometry of the universe, and the reader of the
_Religio Medici_ (p. 42) may remember that Sir Thomas Browne pronounces
God to be "like a skilful geometrician."

An odd coincidence of simile is worth mentioning. Diderot says "that
great services are like large pieces of money, that we have seldom any
occasion to use. Small attentions are a current coin that we always
carry in our hands." This is curiously like the saying in the _Tatler_
that "A man endowed with great perfections without good breeding is like
one who has his pockets full of gold, but wants change for his ordinary
occasions." Yet if Diderot had read the _Tatler_, he would certainly
have referred to the story in No. 55, how William Jones of Newington,
born blind, was brought to sight at the age of twenty--a story told in a
manner after Diderot's own heart.


It is proper in this place to mention a short philosophic piece which
Diderot wrote in 1751, his _Letter on the Deaf and Dumb for the Use of
those who Hear and Talk_. This is not, like the Letter on the Blind,
the examination of a case of the Intellect deprived of one or more of
the senses. It is substantially a fragment, and a very important
fragment, on Æsthetics, and as such there will be something to say about
it in another chapter. But there are, perhaps, one or two points at
which the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb touches the line of thought of the
Letter on the Blind.

The Letter opens on the question of the origin and limits of inversion
in language. This at once leads to a discussion of the natural order of
ideas and expressions, and that original order, says Diderot, we can
only ascertain by a study of the language of gesture. Such a study can
be pursued either in assiduous conversation with one who has been deaf
and dumb from birth, or by the experiment of a _muet de convention_, a
man who foregoes the use of articulate sounds for the sake of experiment
as to the process of the formation of language. Generalising this idea,
Diderot proceeds to consider man as distributed into as many distinct
and separate beings as he has senses. "My idea would be to decompose a
man, so to speak, and to examine what he derives from each of the senses
with which he is endowed. I have sometimes amused myself with this kind
of metaphysical anatomy; and I found that of all the senses, the eye was
the most superficial; the ear, the proudest; smell, the most voluptuous;
taste, the most superstitious and the most inconstant; touch, the
profoundest and the most of a philosopher. It would be amusing to get
together a society, each member of which should have no more than one
sense; there can be no doubt that they would all treat one another as
out of their wits."

This is interesting, because it was said at the time to be the source of
one of the most famous fancies in the philosophical literature of the
century, the Statue in Condillac's Treatise on the Sensations. Condillac
imagined a statue organised like a man, but each sense unfolding itself
singly, at the will of an eternal arbiter. The philosopher first admits
the exercise of smell to his Frankenstein, and enumerates the mental
faculties which might be expected to be set in operation under the
changing impressions made upon that one sense. The other senses are
imparted to it in turn, one by one, each adding a new group of ideas to
the previous stock, until at length the mental equipment is complete.

We may see the extent of the resemblance between Condillac's Statue and
Diderot's _muet de convention_, but Diderot at least is free from the
charge of borrowing. Condillac's book was published three years (1754)
after the Letter on the Deaf and Dumb, and he afterwards wrote a
pamphlet defending himself from the charge of having taken the fancy of
his Statue from Diderot; nor, for that matter, did Diderot ever make
sign or claim in the matter. We have already spoken of the relations
between the two philosophers, and though it is a mistake to describe
Diderot as one of Condillac's most celebrated pupils,[77] yet there is
just as little reason to invert the connection, or to doubt Condillac's
own assertion that the Statue was suggested to him by Mademoiselle
Ferrand, that remarkable woman to whose stimulating and directing
influence he always professed such deep obligation. Attention has been
called to the fact that in 1671 a Parisian bookseller published a Latin
version of a much more intelligent and scientific fancy than the
Statue--the _Philosophus Autodidactus_ of the Arabian, Ibn Tophail. This
was a romance, in which a human being is suckled by a gazelle on a
desert island in the tropics, and grows up in the manner of some
Robinson Crusoe with a turn for psychological speculation, and gradually
becomes conscious, through observation, of the peculiar properties
belonging to his senses.[78]

Of the part of the Letter that concerns gesture, one can only say that
it appears astonishingly crude to those who know the progress that has
been made since Diderot's time in collecting and generalising the
curious groups of fact connected with gesture-language. We can imagine
the eager interest that Diderot would have had in such curious
observations as that gesture-language has something like a definite
syntax; that it furnishes no means of distinguishing causation from
sequence or simultaneity; that savages can understand and be understood
with ease and certainty in a deaf-and-dumb school.[79] Diderot was acute
enough to see that the questions of language could only be solved, not
by the old metaphysical methods, but experientially. For the
experiential method in this matter the time was not ripe. It was no
wonder, then, that after a few pages, he broke away and hastened to


Penalties on the publication of heretical opinion did not cease in
England with the disappearance of the Licensing Act. But they were at
least inflicted by law. It was the Court of King's Bench which, in 1730,
visited Woolston with fine and imprisonment, after all the forms of a
prosecution had been duly gone through. It was no Bishop's court nor
Star Chamber, much less a warrant signed by George the Third or by Bute,
which in 1762 condemned Peter Annet to the pillory and the gaol for his
Free Inquirer. The only evil which overtook Mandeville for his Fable of
the Bees was to be harmlessly presented (1723) as a public nuisance by
the Grand Jury of Middlesex. We may contrast with this the state of
things which prepared a revolution in France.

One morning in July, 1749--almost exactly forty years before that July
of '89, so memorable in the annals of arbitrary government and state
prisons--a commissary of police and three attendants came to Diderot's
house, made a vigorous scrutiny of his papers, and then produced a
warrant for his detention. The philosopher, without any ado, told his
wife not to expect him home for dinner, stepped into the chaise, and
was driven off with his escort to Vincennes. His real offence was a
light sneer in the Letter on the Blind at the mistress of a
minister.[80] The atheistical substance of the essay, however, apart
from the pique of a favourite, would have given sufficiently good
grounds for a prosecution in England, and in France for that vile
substitute for prosecution, the _lettre-decachet_. And there happened to
be special causes for harshness towards the press at this moment. Verses
had been published satirising the king and his manner of life in bitter
terms, and a stern raid was made upon all the scribblers in Paris. At
the court there had just taken place one of those reactions in favour of
the ecclesiastical party, which for thirty years in the court history
alternated so frequently with movements in the opposite direction. The
gossip of the town set down Diderot's imprisonment to a satire against
the Jesuits, of which he was wrongly supposed to be the author.[81] It
is not worth while to seek far for a reason, when authority was as able
and as ready to thrust men into gaol for a bad reason as for a good one.
The writer or the printer of a philosophical treatise was at this moment
looked upon in France much as a magistrate now looks on the wretch who
vends infamous prints.

The lieutenant of police (Berryer) treated the miserable author with
additional severity, for stubbornly refusing to give up the name of the
printer. Diderot was well aware that the printer would be sent to the
galleys for life, if the lieutenant of police could once lay hands upon
him. This personage, we may mention, was afterwards raised to the
dignified office of keeper of the seals, as a reward for his industry
and skill in providing victims for the royal seraglio at Versailles.[82]
The man who had ventured to use his mind, was thrown into the dungeon at
Vincennes by the man who played spy and pander for the Pompadour. The
official record of a dialogue between Berryer and Denis Diderot, "of the
Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion," is a singular piece of
reading, if we remember that the prisoner's answers were made, "after
oath taken by the respondent to speak and answer the truth."

"Interrogated if he has not composed a work entitled _Letters on the

"Answered no.

"Interrogated by whom he had caused said work to be printed.

"Answered that he had not caused the said work to be printed.

"Interrogated if he knows the name of the author of the said work.

"Answered that he knows nothing about it.

"Interrogated whether he has not had said work in manuscript in his
possession before it was printed.

"Answered that he had not had the said manuscript in his possession
before or after it was printed.

"Interrogated whether he has not composed a work which appeared some
years ago, entitled _Philosophic Thoughts_.

"Answered no."

And so, after a dozen more replies of equal veracity, on reading being
made to the respondent of the present interrogatory, Diderot "said that
the answers contain the truth, persisted in them, and signed," as
witness his hand. A sorrowful picture, indeed, of the plight of an
apostle of a new doctrine. On the other hand, the apostle of the new
doctrine was perhaps good enough for the preachers of the old. Two years
before this, the priest of the church of Saint Médard had thought it
worth while to turn spy and informer. This is the report which the base
creature sent to the lieutenant of police (1747):--

     "Diderot, a man of no profession, living, etc., is a young man
     who plays the free-thinker, and glories in impiety. He is the
     author of several works of philosophy, in which he attacks
     religion. His talk is like his books. He is busy at the
     composition of one now, which is very dangerous."

The priest's delation was confirmed presently by a still lower agent of
authority, who, in bad grammar and bad spelling, describes "this wretch
Diderot as a very dangerous man, who speaks of the holy mysteries of
our religion with contempt; who corrupts manners, and who says that when
he comes to the last moment of his life, he will have to do like others,
will confess, and will receive what we call our God, but it will only be
for the sake of his family."[83]

All these things had prepared an unfriendly fate for Diderot when his
time at last came, as it came to most of his friends. For a month he was
cut off from the outer world. His only company was the _Paradise Lost_,
which he happened to have in his pocket at the moment of his arrest. He
compounded an ink for himself, by scraping the slate at the side of his
window, grinding it very fine, and mixing with wine in a broken glass. A
toothpick, found by happy accident in the pocket of his waistcoat,
served him for pen, and the fly-leaves and margins of the Milton made a
repository for his thoughts. With a simple but very characteristic
interest in others who might be as unfortunate as himself, he wrote upon
the walls of his prison his short recipe for writing materials.[84]
Diderot might easily have been buried here for months or even years.
But, as it happened, the governor of Vincennes was a kinsman of
Voltaire's divine Emily, the Marquise du Châtelet. When Voltaire, who
was then at Luneville, heard of Diderot's ill-fortune, he proclaimed as
usual his detestation of a land where bigots can shut up philosophers
under lock and key, and as usual he at once set to work to lessen the
wrong. Madame du Châtelet was made to write to the governor, praying him
to soften the imprisonment of Socrates-Diderot as much as he could.[85]
It was the last of her good deeds, for she died in circumstances of
grotesque tragedy in the following month (Sept. 1749), and her husband,
her son, Voltaire, and Saint Lambert alternately consoled and reproached
one another over her grave. Diderot meanwhile had the benefit of her
intervention. He was transferred from the dungeon to the château, was
allowed to wander about the park on his parole, and to receive visits
from his friends. One of the most impulsive of these friends was Jean
Jacques. Their first meeting after Diderot's imprisonment has been,
described by Rousseau himself, in terms at which the phlegmatic will
smile--not wisely, for the manner of expressing emotion, like all else,
is relative. "After three or four centuries of impatience, I flew into
the arms of my friend. O indescribable moment! He, was not alone;
D'Alembert and the treasurer of the Sainte Chapelle were with him. As I
went in, I saw no one but himself. With a single hound and a cry, I
pressed his face close to mine, I clasped him tightly in my arms,
without speaking to him save by my tears and sobs; I was choking with
tenderness and joy."[86] After this Rousseau used to walk over to see
him two or three times a week. It was during one of these walks on a hot
summer afternoon, that he first thought of that memorable literary
effort, the essay against civilisation. He sank down at the foot of a
tree, and feverishly wrote a page or two to show to his friend. He tells
us that but for Diderot's encouragement he should hardly have executed
his design. There is a story that it was Diderot who first suggested to
Rousseau to affirm that arts and sciences had corrupted manners. There
is no violent improbability in this. Diderot, for all the robustness and
penetration of his judgment, was yet often borne by his natural
impetuosity towards the region of paradox. His own curious and bold
_Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville_ is entirely in the vein of
Rousseau's discourse on the superiority of primitive over civilised
life. "Prodigious sibyl of the eighteenth century," cries Michelet, "the
mighty magician Diderot! He breathed out one day a breath; lo, there
sprang up a man--Rousseau."[87] It is hard to believe that such an
astonishing genius for literature as Rousseau's could have lain
concealed, after he had once inhaled the vivifying air of Paris. Yet the
fire and inspiring energy of Diderot may well have been the quickening
accident that brought his genius into productive life. All the testimony
goes to show that it was so. Whether, however, Diderot is really
responsible for the perverse direction of Rousseau's argument is a
question of fact, and the evidence is not decisive.[88] It would be an
odd example of that giant's nonchalance which is always so amazing in
Diderot, if he really instigated the most eloquent and passionate writer
then alive to denounce art and science as the scourge of mankind, at the
very moment when he was himself straining his whole effort to spread the
arts and sciences, and to cover them with glory in men's eyes.

Among Diderot's other visitors was Madame de Puisieux. One day she came
clad in gay apparel, bound for a merry-making at a neighbouring village.
Diderot, conceiving jealous doubts of her fidelity, received assurance
that she would be solitary and companionless at the feast, thinking
mournfully of her persecuted philosopher lying in prison. She forgot
that one of the parents of philosophy is curiosity, and that Diderot had
trained himself in the school of the sceptics. That evening he scaled
the walls of the park of Vincennes, flew to the scene of the festival,
and there found what he had expected. In vain for her had he written
upon virtue and merit, and the unhallowed friendship came to an end.

After three months of captivity, Diderot was released. The booksellers
who were interested in the Encyclopædia were importunate with the
authorities to restore its head and chief to an enterprise that stirred
universal curiosity.[89] For the first volume of that famous work was
now almost ready to appear, and expectation was keen. The idea of the
book had occurred to Diderot in 1745, and from 1745 to 1765 it was the
absorbing occupation of his life. Of the value and significance of the
conception underlying this immense operation, I shall speak in the next
chapter. There also I shall describe its history. The circumstances
under which these five-and-thirty volumes were given to the world mark
Diderot for one of the few true heroes of literature. They called into
play some of the most admirable of human qualities. They required a
laboriousness as steady and as prolonged, a wariness as alert, a grasp
of plan as firm, a fortitude as patient, unvarying, and unshaken, as men
are accustomed to applaud in the engineer who constructs some vast and
difficult work, or the commander who directs a hardy and dangerous



The history of the encyclopædic conception of human knowledge is a much
more interesting and important object of inquiry than a list of the
various encyclopædic enterprises to be found in the annals of
literature. Yet it is proper here to mention some of the attempts in
this direction, which preceded our memorable book of the eighteenth
century. It is to Aristotle, no doubt, that we must look for the first
glimpse of the idea that human knowledge is a totality, whose parts are
all closely and organically connected with one another. But the idea
that only dawned in that gigantic understanding was lost for many
centuries. The compilations of Pliny are not in a right sense
encyclopædic, being presided over by no definite idea of informing
order. It was not until the later middle age that any attempt was made
to present knowledge as a whole. Albertus Magnus, "the ape of Aristotle"
(1193-1280), left for a season the three great questions of the
existence of universals, of the modes of the existence of species and
genus, and of their place in or out of the bosom of the individuals,
and executed a compilation of such physical facts as had been then
discovered.[90] A more distinctly encyclopædic work was the book of
Vincent de Beauvais (_d._ 1264), called _Speculum naturale, morale,
doctrinale, et historiale_--a compilation from Aquinas in some parts,
and from Aristotle in others. Hallam mentions three other compilations
of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and observes that their
laborious authors did not much improve the materials which they had
amassed in their studies, though they sometimes arranged them
conveniently. In the mediæval period, as he remarks, the want of
capacity to discern probable truths was a very great drawback from the
value of their compilations.[91]

Far the most striking production of the thirteenth century in this kind
was the _Opus Majus_ of Roger Bacon (1267), of which it has been said
that it is at once the Encyclopædia and the Novum Organum of that
age;[92] at once a summary of knowledge, and the suggestion of a truer
method. This, however, was merely the introductory sketch to a vaster
encyclopædic work, the _Compendium Philosophiæ_, which was not
perfected. "In common with minds of great and comprehensive grasp, his
vivid perception of the intimate relationship of the different parts of
philosophy, and his desire to raise himself from the dead level of
every individual science, induced Bacon to grasp at and embrace the
whole."[93] In truth, the encyclopædic spirit was in the air throughout
the thirteenth century. It was the century of books bearing the
significant titles of Summa, or Universitas, or Speculum.

The same spirit revived towards the middle of the sixteenth century. In
1541 a book was published at Basel by one Ringelberg, which first took
the name of Cyclopædia, that has since then become so familiar a word in
Western Europe. This was followed within sixty years by several other
works of the same kind. The movement reached its height in a book which
remained the best in its order for a century. A German, one J.H. Alsted
(1588-1638), published in 1620 an _Encyclopædia scientiarum omnium_. A
hundred years later the illustrious Leibnitz pronounced it a worthy task
to perfect and amend Alsted's book. What was wanting to the excellent
man, he said, was neither labour nor judgment, but material, and the
good fortune of such days as ours. And Leibnitz wrote a paper of
suggestions for its extension and improvement.[94] Alsted's Encyclopædia
is of course written in Latin, and he prefixes to it by way of motto the
celebrated lines in which Lucretius declares that nothing is sweeter
than to dwell apart in the serene temples of the wise. Though he informs
us in the preface that his object was to trace the outlines of the
great "latifundium regni philosophici" in a single syntagma, yet he
really does no more than arrange a number of separate treatises or
manuals, and even dictionaries, within the limits of a couple of folios.
As is natural to the spirit of the age in which he wrote, great
predominance is given to the verbal sciences of grammar, rhetoric, and
formal logic, and a verbal or logical division regulates the
distribution of the matter, rather than a scientific regard for its
objective relations.

For the true parentage, however, of the Encyclopædia of Diderot and
D'Alembert, it is unnecessary to prolong this list. It was Francis
Bacon's idea of the systematic classification of knowledge which
inspired Diderot, and guided his hand throughout. "If we emerge from
this vast operation," he wrote in the Prospectus, "our principal debt
will be to the chancellor Bacon, who sketched the plan of a universal
dictionary of sciences and arts at a time when there were not, so to
say, either arts or sciences." This sense of profound and devoted
obligation was shared by D'Alembert, and was expressed a hundred times
in the course of the work. No more striking panegyric has ever been
passed upon our immortal countryman than is to be found in the
Preliminary Discourse.[95] The French Encyclopædia was the direct fruit
of Bacon's magnificent conceptions. And if the efficient origin of the
Encyclopædia was English, so did the occasion rise in England also.

In 1727 Ephraim Chambers, a Westmoreland Quaker, published in London
two folios, entitled, a Cyclopædia or Universal Dictionary of the Arts
and Sciences. The idea of it was broad and excellent. "Our view," says
Chambers, "was to consider the several matters, not only in themselves,
but relatively, or as they respect each other; both to treat them as so
many wholes, and as so many parts of some greater whole." The compiler
lacked the grasp necessary to realise this laudable purpose. The book
has, however, the merit of conciseness, and is a singular monument of
literary industry, for it was entirely compiled by Chambers himself. It
had a great success, and though its price was high (four guineas), it
ran through five editions in eighteen years. On the whole, however, it
is meagre, and more like a dictionary than an encyclopædia, such as
Alsted's for instance.

Some fifteen years after the publication of Chambers's Cyclopædia, an
Englishman (Mills) and a German (Sellius) went to Le Breton with a
project for its translation into French. The bookseller obtained the
requisite privilege from the government, but he obtained it for himself,
and not for the projectors. This trick led to a quarrel, and before it
was settled the German died and the Englishman returned to his own
country. They left the translation behind them duly executed.[96] Le
Breton then carried the undertaking to a certain abbé, Gua de Malves.
Gua de Malves (_b._ 1712) seems to have been a man of a busy and
ingenious mind. He was the translator of Berkeley's _Hylas and
Philonous_, of Anson's Voyages, and of various English tracts on
currency and political economy. It is said that he first suggested the
idea of a cyclopædia on a fuller plan,[97] but we have no evidence of
this. In any case, the project made no advance in his hands. The
embarrassed bookseller next applied to Diderot, who was then much in
need of work that should bring him bread. His fertile and energetic
intelligence transformed the scheme. By an admirable intuition, he
divined the opportunity which would be given by the encyclopædic form,
of gathering up into a whole all that new thought and modern knowledge,
which existed as yet in unsystematic and uninterpreted fragments. His
enthusiasm fired Le Breton. It was resolved to make Chambers's work a
mere starting-point for a new enterprise of far wider scope.

"The old and learned D'Aguesseau," says Michelet, "notwithstanding the
pitiable, the wretched sides of his character, had two lofty sides, his
reform of the laws, and a personal passion, the taste and urgent need of
universality, a certain encyclopædic sense. A young man came to him one
day, a man of letters living by his pen, and somewhat under a cloud for
one or two hazardous books that lack of bread had driven him to write.
Yet this stranger of dubious repute wrought a miracle. With
bewilderment the old sage listened to him unrolling the gigantic scheme
of a book that should be all books. On his lips, sciences were light and
life. It was more than speech, it was creation. One would have said that
he had made these sciences, and was still at work, adding, extending,
fertilising, ever engendering. The effect was incredible. D'Aguesseau, a
moment above himself, forgot the old man, received the infection of
genius, and became great with the greatness of the other. He had faith
in the young man, and protected the Encyclopædia."[98]

A fresh privilege was procured (Jan. 21, 1746), and as Le Breton's
capital was insufficient for a project of this magnitude, he invited
three other booksellers to join him, retaining a half share for himself,
and allotting the other moiety to them. As Le Breton was not strong
enough to bear the material burdens of producing a work on so gigantic a
scale as was now proposed, so Diderot felt himself unequal to the task
of arranging and supervising every department of a book that was to
include the whole circle of the sciences. He was not skilled enough in
mathematics, nor in physics, which were then for the most part
mathematically conceived. For that province, he associated with himself
as an editorial colleague one of the most conspicuous and active members
of the philosophical party. Of this eminent man, whose relations with
Diderot were for some years so intimate, it is proper that we should say

D'Alembert was the natural son of Madame de Tencin, by whom he had been
barbarously exposed immediately after his birth. "The true ancestors of
a man of genius," says Condorcet finely upon this circumstance, "are the
masters who have gone before him, and his true descendants are disciples
that are worthy of him." He was discovered on a November night in the
year 1717, by the beadle, in a nearly dying condition on the steps of
the church of St. John the Round, from which he afterwards took his
Christian name. An honest woman of the common people, with that personal
devotion which is less rare among the poor than among the rich, took
charge of the foundling. The father, who was an officer of artillery and
brother of Destouches, the author of some poor comedies, by and by
advanced the small sums required to pay for the boy's schooling.
D'Alembert proved a brilliant student. Unlike nearly every other member
of the encyclopædic party, he was a pupil not of the Jesuits but of
their rivals. The Jansenists recognised the keenness and force of their
pupil, and hoped that they had discovered a new Pascal. But he was less
docile than his great predecessor in their ranks. When his studies were
completed, he devoted himself to geometry, for which he had a passion
that nothing could extinguish. For the old monastic vow of poverty,
chastity, and obedience, he adopted the manlier substitute of poverty,
truth, and liberty--the worthy device of every man of letters. When he
awoke in the morning, he thought with delight of the work that had been
begun the previous day and would occupy the day before him. In the
necessary intervals of his meditations, he recalled the lively pleasure
that he felt at the play: at the play between the acts, he thought of
the still greater pleasure that was promised to him by the work of the
morrow. His mathematical labours led to valuable results in the
principles of equilibrium and the movement of fluids, in a new calculus,
and in a new solution of the problem of the precession of the

These contributions to what was then the most popular of the sciences
brought him fame, and fame brought him its usual distractions. As soon
as a writer has shown himself the possessor of gifts that may be of
value to society, then society straightway sets to work to seduce and
hinder him from diligently exercising them. D'Alembert resisted these
influences steadfastly. His means were very limited, yet he could never
be induced to increase them at the cost either of his social
independence or of his scientific pursuits. He lived for forty years
under the humble roof of the poor woman who had treated him as a son.
"You will never be anything better than a philosopher," she used to cry
reproachfully, "and what is a philosopher? 'Tis a madman who torments
himself all his life, that people may talk about him when he is dead."
D'Alembert zealously adhered to his destination. Frederick the Great
vainly tempted him by an offer of the succession to Maupertuis as
president of the Academy of Berlin. Although, however, he declined to
accept the post, he enjoyed all its authority and prerogative. Frederick
always consulted him in filling up vacancies and making appointments. It
is a magnanimous trait in D'Alembert's history that he should have
procured for Lagrange a position and livelihood at Berlin, warmly
commending him as a man of rare and superior genius, although Lagrange
had vigorously opposed some of his own mathematical theories. Ten years
after Frederick's offer, the other great potentate of the north,
Catherine of Russia, besought him to undertake the education of the
young grand duke, her son. But neither urgent flatteries and
solicitations under the imperial hand, nor the munificent offer of a
hundred thousand francs a year, availed to draw him away from his
independence and his friends. The great Frederick used to compare him to
one of those oriental monarchs, who cherish a strict seclusion in order
to enhance their importance and majesty. He did not refuse a pension of
some fifty pounds a year from Berlin, and the same amount was bestowed
upon him from the privy purse at Versailles. He received a small annual
sum in addition from the Academy.

Though the mathematical sciences remained the objects of his special
study, D'Alembert was as free as the other great men of the encyclopædic
school from the narrowness of the pure specialist. He naturally reminds
us of the remarkable saying imputed to Leibnitz, that he only attributed
importance to science, because it enabled him to speak with authority in
philosophy and religion. His correspondence with Voltaire, extending
over the third quarter of the century, is the most instructive record
that we possess of the many-sided doings of that busy time. His series
of _éloges_ on the academicians who died between 1700 and 1772 is one of
the most interesting works in the department of literary history. He
paid the keenest attention to the great and difficult art of writing.
Translations from Tacitus, Bacon, and Addison, show his industry in a
useful practice. A long collection of synonyms bears witness to his fine
discrimination in the use of words. And the clearness, precision, and
reserved energy of his own prose mark the success of the pains that he
took with style. He knew the secret. Have lofty sentiments, he said, and
your manner of writing will be firm and noble.[100] Yet he did not
ignore the other side and half of the truth, which is expressed in the
saying of another important writer of that day--By taking trouble to
speak with precision, one gains the habit of thinking rightly

Like so many others to whom literature owes much, D'Alembert was all his
life fighting against bad health. Like Voltaire and Rousseau, he was
born dying, and he remained delicate and valetudinarian to the end. He
had the mental infirmities belonging to his temperament. He was
restless, impatient, mobile, susceptible of irritation. When the young
Mademoiselle Phlipon, in after years famous as wife of the virtuous
Roland, was taken to a sitting of the Academy, she was curious to see
the author of the Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopædia, but his
small face and sharp thin voice made her reflect with some
disappointment, that the writings of a philosopher are better to know
than his mask.[101] In everything except zeal for light and
emancipation, D'Alembert was the opposite of Diderot. Where Diderot was
exuberant, prodigal, and disordered, D'Alembert was a precisian.
Difference of temperament, however, did not prevent their friendship
from being for many years cordial and intimate. When the Encyclopædia
was planned, it was to D'Alembert, as we have said, that Diderot turned
for aid in the mathematical sciences, where his own knowledge was not
sufficiently full nor well grounded. They were in strong and singular
agreement in their idea of the proper place and function of the man of
letters. One of the most striking facts about their alliance, and one
of the most important facts in the history of the Encyclopædia, is that
henceforth the profession of letters became at once definite and
independent. Diderot and D'Alembert both of them remained poor, but they
were never hangers-on. They did not look to patrons, nor did they bound
their vision by Versailles. They were the first to assert the lawful
authority of the new priesthood. They revolted deliberately and in set
form against the old system of suitorship and protection. "Happy are men
of letters," wrote D'Alembert, "if they recognise at last that the
surest way of making themselves respectable is to live united and almost
shut up among themselves; that by this union they will come, without any
trouble, to give the law to the rest of the nation in all affairs of
taste and philosophy; that the true esteem is that which is awarded by
men who are themselves worthy of esteem.... As if the art of instructing
and enlightening men were not, after the too rare art of good
government, the noblest portion and gift in human reach."[102]

This consciousness of the power and exaltation of their calling, which
men of letters now acquired, is much more than the superficial fact
which it may at first seem to be. It marked the rise of a new teaching
order and the supersession of the old. The highest moral ideas now
belonged no longer to the clergy, but to the writers; no longer to
official Catholicism, but to that fertilising medley of new notions
about human knowledge and human society which then went by the name of
philosophy. What is striking is that the ideas sown by philosophy became
eventually the source of higher life in Catholicism. If the church of
the revolution showed something that we may justly admire, it was
because the encyclopædic band had involuntarily and inevitably imparted
a measure of their own clearsightedness, fortitude, moral energy, and
spirit of social improvement, to a church which was, when they began
their work, an abominable burden on the spiritual life of the nation. If
the Catholicism of Chateaubriand, of Lamennais, of Montalembert, was a
different thing from the Catholicism of a Dubois, or a Rohan, from the
vile corruptions of the Jesuits and the grovelling superstitions of the
later Jansenists, it was the execrated freethinkers whom the church and
mankind had to thank for the change. The most enlightened Catholic of
to-day ought to admit that Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, were the true
reformers of his creed. They supplied it with ideas which saved it from
becoming finally a curse to civilisation. It was no Christian prelate,
but Diderot who burst the bonds of a paralysing dogma by the
magnificent cry, _Détruisez ces enceintes qui rétrécissent vos idées!
Elargissez Dieu!_[103] We see the same phenomenon in our own day. The
Christian churches are assimilating as rapidly as their formula will
permit, the new light and the more generous moral ideas and the higher
spirituality of teachers who have abandoned all churches, and who are
systematically denounced as enemies of the souls of men. _Sic vos non
vobis mellificatis apes!_ These transformations of religion by leavening
elements contributed from a foreign doctrine, are the most interesting
process in the history of truth.

The Encyclopædia became a powerful engine for aiding such a
transformation. Because it was this, and because it rallied all that was
then best in France round the standard of light and social hope, we
ought hardly to grudge time or pains to its history. For it was not
merely in the field of religious ideas that the Encyclopædists led
France in a new way. They affected the national life on every side,
pressing forward with enlightened principles in all the branches of
material and political organisation. Their union in a great
philosophical band gave an impressive significance to their work. The
collection within a single set of volumes of a body of new truths,
relating to so many of the main interests of men, invested the book and
its writers with an aspect of universality, of collective and organic
doctrine, which the writers themselves would without doubt have
disowned, and which it is easy to dissolve by tests of logic. But the
popular impression that the Encyclopædists constituted a single body
with a common doctrine and a common aim was practically sound. Comte has
pointed out with admirable clearness the merit of the conception of an
encyclopædic workshop.[104] It united the members of rival destructive
schools in a great constructive task. It furnished a rallying-point for
efforts otherwise the most divergent. Their influence was precisely what
it would have been, if popular impressions had been literally true.
Diderot and D'Alembert did their best to heighten this feeling. They
missed no occasion of fixing a sentiment of co-operation and fellowship.
They spoke of their dictionary as the transactions of an Academy.[105]
Each writer was answerable for his own contribution, but he was in the
position of a member of some learned corporation. To every volume, until
the great crisis of 1759, was prefixed a list of those who had
contributed to it. If a colleague died, the public was informed of the
loss that the work had sustained, and his services were worthily
commemorated in a formal _éloge_.[106] Feuds, epigrams, and offences
were not absent, but on the whole there was steadfast and generous

As Voltaire eloquently said, officers of war by land and by sea,
magistrates, physicians who knew nature, men of letters whose taste
purified knowledge, geometers, physicists, all united in a work that was
as useful as it was laborious, without any view of interest, without
even seeking fame, as many of them concealed their names; finally
without any common understanding and agreement, and therefore without
anything of the spirit of party.[107] Turning over the pages on which
the list of writers is inscribed, we find in one place or another nearly
every name that has helped to make the literature of the time famous.
Montesquieu, who died in the beginning of 1755, left behind him the
unfinished fragment of an article on Taste, and it may be noticed in
passing that our good-natured Diderot was the only man of letters who
attended the remains of the illustrious writer to the grave.[108] The
article itself, though no more than a fragment, has all the charms of
Montesquieu's delightful style; it is serious without pedantry, graceful
without levity, and is rich in observations that are precise and pointed
without the vice of emphasis. The great Turgot, diligently solicitous
for the success of every enterprise that promised to improve human
happiness by adding to knowledge and spreading enlightenment, wrote some
of the most valuable articles that the work contained, and his
discussion of Endowments perhaps still remains the weightiest
contribution to that important subject. Oddly enough, he was one of the
very few writers who refused to sign his name to his
contributions.[109] His assistance only ceased when he perceived that
the scheme was being coloured by that spirit of sect, which he always
counted the worst enemy of the spirit of truth.[110] Jean Jacques
Rousseau, who had just won a singular reputation by his paradoxes on
natural equality and the corruptions of civilisation, furnished the
articles on music in the first half dozen volumes. They were not free
from mistakes, but his colleagues chivalrously defended him by the plea
of careless printing or indifferent copying.[111] The stately Buffon
very early in the history of the Encyclopædia sent them an article upon
Nature, and the editors made haste to announce to their subscribers the
advent of so superb a colleague.[112] The articles on natural history,
however, were left by Buffon in his usual majestic fashion to his
faithful lieutenant and squire-at-arms, Daubenton. And even his own
article seems not to have been printed. Before the eleventh volume
appeared, terrible storms had arisen, not a few of the shipmen had
parted company, and Buffon may well have been one of them. Certainly the
article on Nature, as it stands, can hardly be his.

In the supplementary volumes, which appeared in 1776--ten years after
the completion of the original undertaking--two new labourers came into
the vineyard, whose names add fresh lustre and give still more serious
value to the work. One of these was the prince of the physiologists of
the eighteenth century, the great Haller, who contributed an elaborate
history of those who had been his predecessors in unfolding the
intricate mechanism of the human frame, and analysing its marvels of
complex function. The other was the austere and generous Condorcet. Ever
loyal to good causes, and resolute against despairing of the human
commonwealth, he began in the pages of the Encyclopædia a career that
was brilliant with good promise and high hopes, and ended in the grim
hall of the Convention and a nobly tragic death amid the red storm of
the Terror.

Among the lesser stars in the encyclopædic firmament are some whose
names ought not to be wholly omitted. Forbonnais, one of the most
instructive economic writers of the century, contributed articles to the
early volumes, which were afterwards republished in his Elements of
Commerce.[113] The light-hearted Marmontel wrote cheerful articles on
Comedy, Eloges, Eclogues, Glory, and other matters of literature and
taste. Quesnai, the eminent founder of the economic sect, dealt with two
agricultural subjects, and reproduced both his theoretical paradoxes,
and his admirable practical maxims, on the material prosperity of
nations. Holbach, not yet author of the memorable System of Nature,
compiled a vast number of the articles on chemistry and mineralogy,
chiefly and avowedly from German sources, he being the only writer of
the band with a mastery of a language which was at that moment hardly
more essential to culture than Russian is now. The name of Duclos should
not be passed over, in the list of the foremost men who helped to raise
the encyclopædic monument. He was one of the shrewdest and most vigorous
intelligences of the time, being in the front rank of men of the second
order. His quality was coarse, but this was only the effect of a
thoroughly penetrating and masculine understanding. His articles in the
Encyclopædia (_Déclamation des Anciens_, _Etiquette_, etc.) are not very
remarkable; but the reflections on conduct which he styled
_Considérations sur les Moeurs de ce Siécle_ (1750), though rather
hard in tone, abound in an acuteness, a breadth, a soundness of
perception that entitle the book to the rare distinction, among the
writings of moralists and social observers, of still being worth
reading. Morellet wrote upon some of the subjects of theology, and his
contributions are remarkable as being the chief examples in the record
of the encyclopædic body of a distinctly and deliberately historic
treatment of religion. "I let people see," he wrote many years after,
"that in such a collection as the Encyclopædia we ought to treat the
history and experience of the dogmas and discipline of the Christian,
exactly like those of the religion of Brahma or Mahomet."[114] This sage
and philosophic principle enabled him to write the article, Fils de Dieu
(vol. vi.), without sliding into Arian, Nestorian, Socinian, or other
heretical view on that fantastic theme. We need not linger over the
names of other writers, who indeed are now little more than mere shadows
of names, such as La Condamine, a scientific traveller of fame and merit
in his day and generation; of Du Marsais, the poverty-stricken and
unlucky scholar who wrote articles on grammar; of the President Des
Brosses, who was unfortunate enough to be in the right in a quarrel
about money with Voltaire, and who has since been better known to
readers through the fury of the provoked patriarch, than through his own
meritorious contributions to the early history of civilisation.

The name of one faithful worker in the building of this new Jerusalem
ought not to be omitted, though his writings were _multa non multum_.
The Chevalier de Jaucourt (1704-1779), as his title shows, was the
younger son of a noble house. He studied at Geneva, Cambridge, and
Leyden, and published in 1734 a useful account of the life and writings
of Leibnitz. When the Encyclopædia was projected, his services were at
once secured, and he became its slave from the beginning of A to the end
of Z. He wrote articles in his own special subjects of natural history
and physical science, but he was always ready to lend his help in other
departments, in writing, rewriting, reading, correcting, and all those
other humbler necessities of editorship of which the inconsiderate
reader knows little and thinks less. Jaucourt revelled in this drudgery.
God made him for grinding articles, said Diderot. For six or seven
years, he wrote one day, Jaucourt has been in the middle of half a dozen
secretaries, reading, dictating, slaving, for thirteen or fourteen hours
a day, and he is not tired of it even now. When he was told that the
work must positively be brought to an end, his countenance fell, and the
prospect of release from such happy bondage filled his heart with
desolation.[115] "If," says Diderot in the preface to the eighth volume
(1765), "we have raised a shout of joy like the sailor when he espies
land after a sombre night that has kept him midway between sky and
flood, it is to M. de Jaucourt that we are indebted for it. What has he
not done for us, especially in these latter times? With what constancy
has he not refused all the solicitations, whether of friendship or of
authority, that sought to take him away from us? Never has sacrifice of
repose, of health, of interest been more absolute and more entire."[116]
These modest and unwearying helpers in good works ought not to be wholly
forgotten, in a commemoration of more far-shining names.

Besides those who were known to the conductors of the Encyclopædia, was
a host of unsought volunteers. "The further we proceed," the editors
announced in the preface to the sixth volume (1756), "the more are we
sensible of the increase both in matter and in number of those who are
good enough to second our efforts." They received many articles on the
same subject. They were constantly embarrassed by an emulation which,
however flattering as a testimony to their work, obliged them to make a
difficult choice, or to lose a good article, or to sacrifice one of
their regular contributors, or to offend some influential newcomer.
Every one who had a new idea in his head, or what he thought a new idea,
sent them an article upon it. Men who were priests or pastors by
profession and unbelievers in their hearts, sent them sheaves of
articles in which they permitted themselves the delicious luxury of
saying a little of what they thought. Women, too, pressed into the great
work. Unknown ladies volunteered sprightly explanations of the
technicalities of costume, from the falbala which adorned the bottom of
their skirts, up to that little knot of riband in the hair, which had
come to replace the old appalling edifice of ten stories high, in
hierarchic succession of duchess, solitary, musketeer, crescent,
firmament, tenth heaven, and mouse.[117] The oldest contributor was
Lenglet du Fresnoy, whose book on the Method of Studying History is
still known to those who have examined the development of men's ideas
about the relations of the present to the past. Lenglet was born in
1674. The youngest of the band was Condorcet, who was born nearly
seventy years later (1743). One veteran, Morellet, who had been, the
schoolmate of Turgot and Loménie de Brienne, lived to think of many
things more urgent than Faith, Fils de Dieu, and Fundamentals. He
survived the Revolution, the Terror, the Empire, Waterloo, the
Restoration, and died in 1819, within sight of the Holy Alliance and the
Peterloo massacre. From the birth of Lenglet to the death of
Morellet--what an arc of the circle of western experience!

No one will ask whether the keen eye, and stimulating word, and helpful
hand of Voltaire were wanting to an enterprise which was to awaken men
to new love of tolerance, enlightenment, charity, and justice. Voltaire
was playing the refractory courtier at Potsdam when the first two
volumes appeared. With characteristic vehemence, he instantly pronounced
it a work which should be the glory of France, and the shame of its
persecutors. Diderot and D'Alembert were raising an immortal edifice,
and he would gladly furnish them with a little stone here or there,
which they might find convenient to stuff into some corner or crevice in
the wall. He was incessant in his industry. Unlike those feebler and
more consequential spirits, the _petits-maîtres_ of thought, by whom
editors are harassed and hindered, this great writer was as willing to
undertake small subjects as large ones, and to submit to all the
mutilations and modifications which the exigencies of the work and the
difficulties of its conductors recommended to them.[118] As the
structure progresses, his enthusiasm waxes warmer. Diderot and his
colleague are cutting their wings for a flight to posterity. They are
Atlas and Hercules bearing a world upon their shoulders. It is the
greatest work in the world; it is a superb pyramid; its printing-office
is the office for the instruction of the human race; and so forth, in
every phrase of stimulating sympathy and energetic interest. Nor does
his sympathy blind him to faults of execution. Voltaire's good sense and
sound judgment were as much at the service of his friends in warning
them of shortcomings, as in eulogising what they achieved. And he had
good faith enough to complain to his friends, instead of complaining of
them. In one place he tells them, what is perfectly true, that their
journeymen are far too declamatory, and too much addicted to substitute
vague and puerile dissertations for that solid instruction which is what
the reader of an Encyclopædia seeks. In another he remonstrates against
certain frivolous affectations, and some of the coxcombries of literary
modishness. Everywhere he recommends them to insist on a firm and
distinct method in their contributors--etymologies, definitions,
examples, reasons, clearness, brevity. "You are badly seconded," he
writes; "there are bad soldiers in the army of a great general."[119] "I
am sorry to see that the writer of the article _Hell_ declares that
hell was a point in the doctrine of Moses; now by all the devils that is
not true. Why lie about it? Hell is an excellent thing, to be sure, but
it is evident that Moses did not know it. 'Tis this world that is

D'Alembert in reply always admitted the blemishes for which the
patriarch and master reproached them, but urged various pleas in
extenuation. He explains that Diderot is not always the master, either
to reject or to prune the articles that are offered to him.[121] A
writer who happened to be useful for many excellent articles would
insist as the price of good work that they should find room for his bad
work also; and so forth. "No doubt we have bad articles in theology and
metaphysics, but with theologians for censors, and a privilege, I defy
you to make them any better. There are other articles that are less
exposed to the daylight, and in them all is repaired. Time will enable
people to distinguish what we have thought from what we have said."[122]
This last is a bitter and humiliating word, but before any man hastens
to cast a stone, let him first make sure that his own life is free from
every trace of hypocritical conformity and mendacious compliance.
Condorcet seems to make the only remark that is worth making, when he
says that the true shame and disgrace of these dissemblings lay not with
the writers, whose only other alternative was to leave the stagnation
of opinion undisturbed, but with the ecclesiastics and ministers whose
tyranny made dissimulation necessary. And the veil imposed by authority
did not really serve any purpose of concealment. Every reader was let
into the secret of the writer's true opinion of the old mysteries, by
means of a piquant phrase, an adroit parallel, a significant reference,
an equivocal word of dubious panegyric. Diderot openly explains this in
the pages of the Encyclopædia itself. "In all cases," he says, "where a
national prejudice would seem to deserve respect, the particular article
ought to set it respectfully forth, with its whole procession of
attractions and probabilities. But the edifice of mud ought to be
overthrown and an unprofitable heap of dust scattered to the wind, by
references to articles in which solid principles serve as a base for the
opposite truths. This way of undeceiving men operates promptly on minds
of the right stamp, and it operates infallibly and without any
troublesome consequences, secretly and without disturbance, on minds of
every description."[123] "Our fanatics feel the blows," cried D'Alembert
complacently, "though they are sorely puzzled to tell from which side
they come."[124]

It is one of the most deplorable things in the history of literature to
see a man endowed with Diderot's generous conceptions and high social
aims, forced to stoop to these odious economies. In reading his
Prospectus, and still more directly in his article,

_Encyclopédie_, we are struck by the beneficence and breadth of the
great designs which inspire and support him. The Encyclopædia, it has
been said, was no peaceful storehouse in which scholars and thinkers of
all kinds could survey the riches they had acquired; it was a gigantic
siege-engine and armoury of weapons of attack.[125] This is only true in
a limited sense of one part of the work, and that not the most important
part. Such a judgment is only possible for one who has not studied the
book itself, or else who is ignorant of the social requirements of
France at the time. We shall show this presently in detail. Meanwhile it
is enough to make two observations. The implements which the
circumstances of the time made it necessary to use as weapons of attack,
were equally fitted for the acquisition in a happier season of those
treasures of thought and knowledge which are the object of disinterested
research. And what is still more important, we have to observe that it
was the characteristic note and signal glory of the French revolutionary
school, to subordinate mere knowledge to the practical work of raising
society up from the corruption and paralysis to which it had been
brought by the double action of civil and ecclesiastical authority. The
efforts of the Encyclopædists were not disinterested in the sense of
being vague blows in the air. Their aim was not theory but practice, not
literature but life. The Encyclopædists were no doubt all men of battle,
and some of them were hardly more than mere partisans.

But Diderot at least had constantly in mind the great work which
remained after the battle should be won. He was profoundly conscious
that the mere accumulation of knowledge of the directly physical facts
of the universe would take men a very short way towards reconstruction.
And he struck the key-note in such admirable passages as this: "One
consideration especially that we ought never to lose from sight is that,
if we ever banish a man, or the thinking and contemplative being, from
above the surface of the earth, this pathetic and sublime spectacle of
nature becomes no more than a scene of melancholy and silence. The
universe is dumb; the darkness and silence of the night take possession
of it.... It is the presence of man that gives its interest to the
existence of other beings; and what better object can we set before
ourselves in the history of these beings, than to accept such a
consideration? Why shall we not introduce man into our work in the same
place which he holds in the universe? Why shall we not make him a common
centre? Is there in infinite space any other point from which we can
with greater advantage draw those immense lines that we propose to
extend to all other points? What a vivid and softening reaction must
result between man and the beings by whom he is surrounded?... Man is the
single term from which we ought to set out, and to which we ought to
trace all back, if we would please, interest, touch, even in the most
arid reflections and the driest details. If you take away my own
existence and the happiness of my fellows, of what concern to me is all
the rest of nature."[126]

In this we hear the voice of the new time, as we do in his exclamation
that the perfection of an Encyclopædia is the work of centuries;
centuries had to elapse before the foundations could be laid; centuries
would have to elapse before its completion: "_mais à la posérité, et_ À
L'ÊTRE QUI NE MEURT POINT!"[127] These exalted ideas were not a
substitute for arduous labour. In all that Diderot writes upon his
magnificent undertaking, we are struck by his singular union of common
sense with elevation, of simplicity with grasp, of suppleness with
strength, of modesty with hopeful confidence. On occasions that would
have tempted a man of less sincerity and less seriousness to bombast and
inflation, his sense of the unavoidable imperfections of so vast a work
always makes itself felt through his pride in its lofty aim and
beneficent design. The weight of the burden steadied him, and the
anxiety of the honest and laborious craftsman mastered the impulses of

Before going further into the general contents of the Encyclopædia, we
shall briefly describe the extraordinary succession of obstacles and
embarrassments against which its intrepid conductor was compelled to
fight his way. The project was fully conceived and its details worked
out between 1745 and 1748. The Encyclopedia was announced in 1750, in a
Prospectus of which Diderot was the author. At length in 1751 the first
volume of the work itself was given to the public, followed by the
second in January 1752. The clerical party at once discerned what
tremendous fortifications, with how deadly an armament, were rising up
in face of their camp. The Jesuits had always been jealous of an
enterprise in which they had not been invited to take a part. They had
expected at least to have the control of the articles on theology. They
now were bent on taking the work into their own hands, and orthodoxy
hastily set all the machinery of its ally, authority, in vigorous

The first attack was indirect. An abbé de Prades sustained a certain
thesis in an official exercise at the Sorbonne, and Diderot was
suspected, without good reason, of being its true author. An examination
of its propositions was ordered. It was pronounced pernicious,
dangerous, and tending to deism, chiefly on account of some too
suggestive comparisons between the miraculous healings in the New
Testament, and those ascribed in the more ancient legend to Æsculapius.
Other grounds of vehement objection were found in the writer's
maintenance of the Lockian theory of the origin of our ideas. To deny
the innateness of ideas was roundly asserted to be materialism and
atheism. The abbé de Prades was condemned, and deprived of his license
(Jan 27, 1752). As he was known to be a friend of Diderot, and was
suspected of being the writer of articles on theology in the
Encyclopædia, the design of the Jesuit cabal in ruining De Prades was
to discredit the new undertaking, and to induce the government to
prohibit it. Their next step was to procure a pastoral from the
archbishop of Paris. This document not only condemned the heretical
propositions of De Prades, but referred in sombre terms to unnamed works
teeming with error and impiety. Every one understood the reference, and
among its effects was an extension of the vogue and notoriety of the
Encyclopædia.[128] The Jesuits were not allowed to retain a monopoly of
persecuting zeal, and the Jansenists refused to be left behind in the
race of hypocritical intrigue. The bishop of Auxerre, who belonged to
this party, followed his brother prelate of Paris in a more direct
attack, in which he included not only the Encyclopædia, but
Montesquieu and Buffon. De Prades took to flight. D'Alembert commended
him to Voltaire, then at Berlin. The king was absent, but Voltaire gave
royal protection to the fugitive until Frederick's return. De Prades was
then at once taken into favour and appointed reader to the king. He
proved but a poor martyr, however, for he afterwards retracted his
heresies, got a benefice, and was put into prison by Frederick for
giving information to his French countrymen during the Seven Years'
War.[129] Unfortunately neither orthodoxy nor heterodoxy has any
exclusive patent for monopoly of rascals.

Meanwhile Diderot wrote on his behalf an energetic and dignified reply
to the aggressive pastoral. This apology is not such a masterpiece of
eloquence as the magnificent letter addressed by Rousseau ten years
later to the archbishop of Paris, after the pastoral against Emilius.
But Diderot's vindication of De Prades is firm, moderate, and closely
argumentative. The piece is worth turning to in our own day, when great
dignitaries of the churches too often show the same ignorance, the same
temerity, and the same reckless want of charity, as the bishop of
Auxerre showed a hundred and twenty years ago. They resort to the very
same fallacies by way of shield against scientific truths or
philosophical speculations that happen not to be easily reconcilable
with their official opinions. "I know nothing so indecent," says
Diderot, "and nothing so injurious to religion as these vague
declamations of theologians against reason. One would suppose, to hear
them, that men could only enter into the bosom of Christianity as a herd
of cattle enter into a stable; and that we must renounce our common
sense either to embrace our religion or to remain in it.... Such
principles as yours are made to frighten small souls; everything alarms
them, because they perceive clearly the consequences of nothing; they
set up connections among things which have nothing to do with one
another; they spy danger in any method of arguing which is strange to
them; they float at hazard between truths and prejudices which they
never distinguish, and to which they are equally attached; and all
their life is passed in crying out either miracle or impiety." In an
eloquent peroration, which is not more eloquent than it is instructive,
De Prades is made to turn round on his Jansenist censor, and reproach
him with the disturbance with which the intestine rivalries of Jansenist
and Jesuit had afflicted the faithful. "It is the abominable testimony
of your convulsions," he cries, "that has overthrown the testimony of
miracles. It is the fatuous audacity with which your fanatics have
confronted persecution, that has annihilated the evidence of the
martyrs. It is your declamations against sovereign pontiffs, against
bishops, against all the orders of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, that
have covered priest, altar, and creed with opprobrium. If the pope, the
bishops, the priests, the simple faithful, the whole church, if its
mysteries, its sacraments, its temples, its ceremonies, have fallen into
contempt, yours, yours, is the handiwork."[130]

Bourdaloue more than half a century before had taunted the free-thinkers
of his day with falseness and inconsistency in taking sides with the
Jansenists, whose superstitions they notoriously held in open contempt.
The motive for the alliance was tolerably obvious. The Jansenists, apart
from their theology, were above all else the representatives of
opposition to authority. It was for this that Lewis XIV. counted them
worse than atheists. The Jesuits, it has been well said in keeping down
their enemies by force, became the partisans of absolute government,
and upheld it on every occasion. The Jansenists, after they had been
crushed by violence, began to feel to what excesses power might be
brought. From being speculative enemies to freedom as a theory, they
became, through the education of persecution, the partisans of freedom
in practice. The quarrel of Molinists and Jansenists, from a question of
theology, grew into a question of human liberty.[131]

Circumstances had now changed. The free-thinkers were becoming strong
enough to represent opposition to authority on their own principles and
in their own persons. Diderot's vigorous remonstrance with the bishop of
Auxerre incidentally marks for us the definite rupture of philosophic
sympathy for the Jansenist champions. "It is your disputatiousness," he
said, "which within the last forty years has made far more unbelievers
than all the productions of philosophy." As we cannot too clearly
realise, it was the flagrant social incompetence of the church which
brought what they called Philosophy, that is to say Liberalism, into
vogue and power. Locke's Essay had been translated in 1700, but it had
made no mark, and as late as 1725 the first edition of the translation
remained unsold. It was the weakness and unsightly decrepitude of the
ecclesiastics which opened the way for the thinkers.

This victory, however, was not yet. Diderot had still a dismal
wilderness to traverse. He was not without secret friends even in the
camp of his enemies.

After his reply to Peré Berthier's attack on the Prospectus, he
received an anonymous letter to the effect that if he wished to avenge
himself on the Jesuits, there were both important documents and money at
his command. Diderot replied that he was in no want of money, and that
he had no time to spare for Jesuit documents.[132] He trusted to reason.
Neither reason nor eloquence availed against the credit at court of the
ecclesiastical cabal. The sale of the second volume of the Encyclopædia
was stopped by orders which Malesherbes was reluctantly compelled to
issue. A decree of the king's council (Feb. 7, 1752) suppressed both
volumes, as containing maxims hostile to the royal authority and to
religion. The publishers were forbidden to reprint them, and the
booksellers were forbidden to deliver any copies that might still be in
hand. The decree, however, contained no prohibition of the continuance
of the work. It was probably not meant to do anything more serious than
to pacify the Jesuits, and lend an apparent justification to the
officious pastorals of the great prelates. Some even thought that the
aim of the government was to forestall severer proceedings on the part
of the parliament of lawyers;[133] for corporations of lawyers have
seldom been less bigoted or obstructive than corporations of churchmen.
Nor were lawyers and priests the only foes. Even the base and despicable
jealousies of booksellers counted for something in the storm.[134]

A curious triumph awaited the harassed Diderot.

He was compelled, under pain of a second incarceration, to hand over to
the authorities all the papers, proof-sheets, and plates in his
possession. The Jesuit cabal supposed that if they could obtain the
materials for the future volumes, they could easily arrange and
manipulate them to suit their own purposes. Their ignorance and
presumption were speedily confounded. In taking Diderot's papers, they
had forgotten, as Grimm says, to take his head and his genius: they had
forgotten to ask him for a key to articles which, so far from
understanding, they with some confusion vainly strove even to decipher.
The government was obliged (May 1752) to appeal to Diderot and
D'Alembert to resume a work for which their enemies had thus proved
themselves incompetent. Yet, by one of the meannesses of decaying
authority, the decree of three months before was left suspended over
their heads.[135]

The third volume of the Encyclopædia appeared in the autumn of 1753.
D'Alembert prefixed an introduction, vindicating himself and his
colleague with a manliness, a sincerity, a gravity, a fire, that are
admirable and touching. "What," he concluded, "can malignity henceforth
devise against two men of letters, trained long since by their
meditations to fear neither injustice nor poverty; who having learnt by
a long and mournful experience, not to despise, but to mistrust and
dread men, have the courage to love them, and the prudence to flee
them?... After having been the stormy and painful occupation of the
most precious years of our life, this work will perhaps be the solace of
its close. May it, when both we and our enemies alike have ceased to
exist, be a durable monument of the good intention of the one, and the
injustice of the other.... Let us remember the fable of Bocalina: 'A
traveller was disturbed by the importunate chirrupings of the
grasshoppers; he would fain have slain them every one, but only got
belated and missed his way; he need only have fared peacefully on his
road, and the grasshoppers would have died of themselves before the end
of a week.'"[136] A volume was now produced in each year, until the
autumn of 1757 and the issue of the seventh volume. This brought the
work down to Gyromancy and Gythiuin. Then there arose storms and
divisions which marked a memorable epoch alike in the history of the
book, in the life of Diderot and others, and in the thought of the
century. The progress of the work in popularity during the five years
between 1752 and 1757 had been steady and unbroken. The original
subscribers were barely two thousand. When the fourth volume appeared,
there were three thousand. The seventh volume found nearly a thousand
more.[137] Such prodigious success wrought the chagrin of the party of
superstition to fever heat. As each annual volume came from the press
and found a wider circle of readers than its predecessor, their malice
and irritation waxed a degree more intense. They scattered malignant
rumours abroad; they showered pamphlets; no imputation was too odious or
too ridiculous for them. Diderot, D'Alembert, Voltaire, Rousseau,
Buffon, were declared to have organised a league of writers, with the
deliberate purpose of attacking the public tranquillity and overthrowing
society. They were denounced as heads of a formal conspiracy, a
clandestine association, a midnight band, united in a horrible community
of pestilent opinions and sombre interests.

In the seventh volume an article appeared which made the ferment angrier
than it had ever been. D'Alembert had lately been the guest of Voltaire
at Ferney, whence he had made frequent visits to Geneva. In his
intercourse with the ministers of that famous city, he came to the
conclusion that their religious opinions were really Socinian, and when
he wrote the article on Geneva he stated this. He stated it in such a
way as to make their heterodox opinions a credit to Genevese pastors,
because he associated disbelief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, in
mysteries of faith, and in eternal punishment, with a practical life of
admirable simplicity, purity, and tolerance. Each line of this eulogy on
the Socinian preachers of Geneva, veiled a burning and contemptuous
reproach against the cruel and darkened spirit of the churchmen in
France. Jesuit and Jansenist, loose abbès and debauched prelates, felt
the quivering of the arrow in the quick, as they read that the morals of
the Genevese pastors were exemplary; that they did not pass their lives
in furious disputes upon unintelligible points; that they brought no
indecent and persecuting accusation against one another before the civil
magistrate. There was gall and wormwood to the orthodox bigot in the
harmless statement that "Hell, which is one of the principal articles of
our belief, has ceased to be one with many of the ministers of Geneva;
it would be, according to them, a great insult to the divinity, to
imagine that this Being, so full of justice and goodness, is capable of
punishing our faults by an eternity of torment: they explain in as good
a sense as they can the formal passages of Scripture which are contrary
to their opinion, declaring that we ought never in the sacred books to
take anything literally, that seems to wound humanity and reason." And
we may be sure that D'Alembert was thinking less of the consistory and
the great council of Geneva, than of the priests and the parliament of
Paris, when he praised the Protestant pastors, not only for their
tolerance, but for confining themselves within their proper functions,
and for being the first to set an example of submission to the
magistrates and the laws. The intention of this elaborate and, reasoned
account of the creed and practice of a handful of preachers in a
heretical town, could not be mistaken by those at whom it was directed.
It produced in the black ranks of official orthodoxy fully as angry a
shock as its writer could have designed.

The church had not yet, we must remember, borrowed the principles of
humanity and tolerance from atheists. It was not the comparatively
purified Christian doctrine of our own time with which the
Encyclopædists did battle, but an organised corporation, with
exceptional tribunals, with special material privileges, with dungeons
and chains at their disposal. We have to realise that official religion
was then a strange union of Byzantine decrepitude, with the energetic
ferocity of the Holy Office. Within five years of this indirect plea of
D'Alembert for tolerance and humanity, Calas was murdered by the
orthodoxy of Toulouse. Nearly ten years later (1766), we find Lewis XV.,
with the steam of the Parc aux Cerfs about him, rewarded by the loyal
acclamations of a Parisian crowd, for descending from his carriage as a
priest passed bearing the sacrament, and prostrating himself in the mud
before the holy symbol.[138] In the same year the youth La Barre was
first tortured, then beheaded, then burnt, for some presumed disrespect
to the same holy symbol--then become the hateful ensign of human
degradation, of fanatical cruelty, of rancorous superstition. Yet I
should be sorry to be unjust. It is to be said that even in these bad
days when religion meant cruelty and cabal, the one or two men who
boldly withstood to the face the king and the Pompadour for the vileness
of their lives, were priests of the church.

D'Alembert's article hardly goes beyond what to us seem the axioms of
all men of sense. We must remember the time. Even members of the
philosophic party itself, like Grimm, thought the article misplaced and
hardy.[139] The Genevese ministers indignantly repudiated the compliment
of Socinianism, and the eulogy of being rather less irrational than
their neighbours. Voltaire read and read again with delight, and plied
the writer with reiterated exhortations in every key, not to allow
himself to be driven from the great work by the raging of the heathen
and the vain imaginings of the people.[140]

While the storm seemed to be at its height, an incident occurred which
let loose a new flood of violent passion. Helvétius published that
memorable book in which he was thought to have told all the world its
own secret. His _De l'Esprit_ came out in 1758.[141] It provoked a
general insurrection of public opinion. The devout and the heedless
agreed in denouncing it as scandalous, licentious, impious, and pregnant
with peril. The philosophic party felt that their ally had dealt a sore
blow to liberty of thought and the free expression of opinion.
"Philosophy," said Grimm, by philosophy, as I have said, meaning
Liberalism, "will long feel the effect of the rising of opinion which
this author has caused by his book; and for having described too freely
a morality that is bad and false in itself, M. Helvétius will have to
reproach himself with all the restraints that are now sure to be imposed
on the few men of lofty genius who still are left to us, whose destiny
was to enlighten their fellows, and to spread truth over the

At the beginning of 1759 the procureur-général laid an information
before the court against Helvétius's book, against half a dozen minor
publications, and finally against the Encyclopædia. The _De l'Esprit_
was alleged to be a mere abridgment of the Encyclopædia, and the
Encyclopædia was denounced as being the opprobrium of the nation by its
impious maxims and its hostility to morals and religion. The court
appointed nine commissaries to examine the seven volumes, suspending
their further sale or delivery in the meanwhile. When the commissaries
sent in their report a month later, the parliament was dissatisfied
with its tenour, and appointed four new examiners, two of them being
theologians and two of them lawyers. Before the new censors had time to
do their work, the Council of State interposed with an arbitrary decree
(March 1759) suppressing the privilege which had been conceded in 1746;
prohibiting the sale of the seven volumes already printed, and the
printing of any future volumes under pain of exemplary punishment.[143]
The motive for this intervention has never been made plain. One view is
that the king's government resented the action of the law courts, and
that the royal decree was only an episode in the quarrel then raging
between the crown and the parliaments. Another opinion is that
Malesherbes or Choiseul was anxious to please the dauphin and the
Jesuit party at Versailles. The most probable explanation is that the
authorities were eager to silence one at least of the three elements of
opposition, the Jansenists, the lawyers, and the philosophers,--who
were then distracting the realm. The two former were beyond their
direct reach. They threw themselves upon the foe who happened to be
most accessible.

The government, however, had no intention of finally exterminating an
enemy who might at some future day happen to be a convenient ally. They
encouraged or repressed the philosophers according to the political
calculations of the moment, sometimes according to the caprices of the
king's mistress, or even a minister's mistress. When the clergy braved
the royal authority, the hardiest productions were received with
indulgence. If the government were reduced to satisfy the clergy, then
even the very commonplaces of the new philosophy became ground for
accusation. The Encyclopædia was naturally exposed in a special degree
to such alternations of favour and suspicion.[144] The crisis of 1759
furnishes a curious illustration of this. As we have seen, in the spring
of that year the privilege was withdrawn from the four associated
booksellers, and the continuance of the work strictly prohibited. Yet
the printing was not suspended for a week. Fifty compositors were busily
setting up a book which the ordinance of the government had decisively
forbidden under heavy penalties.

The same kind of connivance was practised to the advantage of other
branches of the opposition. Thirty years before this, the organ of the
Jansenist party was peremptorily suppressed. The police instituted a
rigorous search, and seized the very presses on which the Nouvelles
Ecclésiastiques was being printed. But the journal continued to appear,
and was circulated, just as regularly as before.[145]

The history of the policy of authority towards the Encyclopædia is only
one episode in the great lesson of the reign of Lewis XV. It was long a
common mistake to think of this king's system of government as violent
and tyrannical. In truth, its failure and confusion resulted less from
the arbitrariness of its procedure, than from the hopeless absence of
tenacity, conviction, and consistency in the substance and direction of
its objects. And this, again, was the result partly of the complex and
intractable nature of the opposition with which successive ministers had
to deal, and partly of the overpowering strength of those Asiatic maxims
of government which Richelieu and Lewis XIV. had invested with such
ruinous prestige. The impatience and charlatanry of emotional or
pseudo-scientific admirers of a personal system blind them to the
permanent truth, of which the succession of the decrepitude of Lewis XV.
to the strength of his great-grandfather, and of the decrepitude of
Napoleon III. to the strength of his uncle, are only illustrations.

The true interest of all these details about a mere book lies in the
immense significance of the movement of political ideas and forces to
which they belong. The true interest of all history lies in the
spectacle which it furnishes of the growth and dissolution, the shock
and the transformation, incessantly at work among the great groups of
human conceptions. The decree against the Encyclopædia marks the central
moment of a collision between two antagonistic conceptions which
disputed, and in France still dispute, with one another the shaping and
control of institutions. One of these ideas is the exclusion of
political authority from the sphere and function of directing opinion;
it implies the absolute secularisation of government. The rival idea
prompted the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the dragonnades, the
revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and all the other acts of the same
policy, which not only deprived France of thousands of the most
conscientious and most ingenious of her sons, but warped and corrupted
the integrity of the national conscience. It is natural that we should
feel anger at the arbitrary attempt to arrest Diderot's courageous and
enlightened undertaking. Yet in truth it was only the customary
inference from an accepted principle, that it is the business or the
right of governments to guide thought and regulate its expression. The
Jesuits acted on this theory, and resorted to repressive power and the
secular arm whenever they could. The Jansenists repudiated the
principle, but eagerly practised it whenever the turn of intrigue gave
them the chance.

An extraordinary and unforeseen circumstance changed the external
bearings of this critical conflict of ideas. The conception of the
duties of the temporal authority in the spiritual sphere had been
associated hitherto with Catholic doctrine. The decay of that doctrine
was rapidly discrediting the conception allied with it. But the movement
was interrupted. And it was interrupted by a man who suddenly stepped
out from the ranks of the Encyclopædists themselves. Rousseau from his
solitary cottage at Montmorency (1758) fulminated the celebrated letter
to D'Alembert on Stage Plays. The article on Geneva in the seventh
volume of the Encyclopædia had not only praised the pastors for their
unbelief; it also assailed the time-honoured doctrine of the churches
that the theatre is an institution from hell and an invention of devils.
D'Alembert paid a compliment to his patriarch and master at Ferney, as
well as shot a bolt at his ecclesiastical foes in Paris, by urging the
people of Geneva to shake off irrational prejudices and straightway to
set up a playhouse. Rousseau had long been brooding over certain private
grievances of his own against Diderot; the dreary story has been told by
me before, and happily need not be repeated.[146] He took the occasion
of D'Alembert's mischievous suggestion to his native Geneva, not merely
to denounce the drama with all the force and eloquence at his command,
but formally to declare the breach between himself and Diderot. From
this moment he treated the Holbachians--so he contemptuously styled the
Encyclopædists--as enemies of the human race and disseminators of the
deadliest poisons.

This was no mere quarrel of rival authors. It marked a fundamental
divergence in thought, and proclaimed the beginning of a disastrous
reaction in the very heart of the school of illumination. Among the most
conspicuous elements of the reaction were these: the subordination of
reason to emotion; the displacement of industry, science, energetic and
many-sided ingenuity, by dreamy indolence; and finally, what brings us
back to our starting-point, the suppression of opinions deemed to be
anti-social by the secular arm. The old idea was brought back in a new
dress; the absolutist conception of the function of authority,
associated with a theistic doctrine. Unfortunately for France,
Rousseau's idea prospered, and ended by vanquishing its antagonist. The
reason is plain. Rousseau's idea exactly fitted in with the political
traditions and institutions of the country. It was more easily and
directly compatible than was the contending idea, with that temper and
set of men's minds which tradition and institutions had fixed so
disastrously deep in the national character.

The crisis of 1758-59, then, is a date of the highest importance. It
marks a collision between the old principle of Lewis XIV., of the
Bartholomew Massacre, of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and the
new rationalistic principle of spiritual emancipation. The old principle
was decrepit, it was no longer able to maintain itself; the hounds were
furious, but their fury was toothless. Before the new principle could
achieve mastery, Rousseau had made mastery impossible. Two men came into
the world at this very moment, whom destiny made incarnations of the
discordant principles. Danton and Robespierre were both born in 1759.
Diderot seems to have had a biblical presentiment, says Michelet. "We
feel that he saw, beyond Rousseau, something sinister, a spectre of the
future. Diderot-Danton already looks in the face of

A more vexatious incident now befell the all-daring, all-enduring
Diderot, than either the decree of the Council or the schism of the
heresiarch at Montmorency. D'Alembert declared his intention of
abandoning the work, and urged his colleague to do the same. His letters
to Voltaire show intelligibly enough how he brought himself to this
resolution. "I am worn out," he says, "with the affronts and vexations
of every kind that this work draws down upon us. The hateful and even
infamous satires which they print against us, and which are not only
tolerated, but protected, authorised, applauded, nay, actually commanded
by the people with power in their hands; the sermons, or rather the
tocsins that are rung against us at Versailles in the presence of the
king, _nemine reclamante_; the new intolerable inquisition that they are
bent on practising against the Encyclopædia, by giving us new censors
who are more absurd and more intractable than could be found at Goa;
all these reasons, joined to some others, drive me to give up this
accursed work once for all." He cared nothing for libels or stinging
pamphlets in themselves, but libels permitted or ordered by those who
could instantly have suppressed them, were a different thing, especially
when they vomited forth the vilest personalities. He admitted that there
were other reasons why he was bent on retiring, and it would appear that
one of these reasons was dissatisfaction with the financial arrangements
of the booksellers.[148]

Voltaire for some time remonstrated against this retreat before the
hated _Infâme_. At length his opinion came round to D'Alembert's
reiterated assertions of the shame and baseness of men of letters
subjecting themselves to the humiliating yoke of ministers, priests, and
police. Voltaire wrote to Diderot, protesting that before all things it
was necessary to present a firm front to the foe; it would be atrocious
weakness to continue the work after D'Alembert had quitted it; it was
monstrous that such a genius as Diderot should make himself the slave of
booksellers and the victim of fanatics. Must this dictionary, he asked,
which is a hundred times more useful than Bayle's, be fettered with the
superstition which it should annihilate; must they make terms with
scoundrels who keep terms with none; could the enemies of reason, the
persecutors of philosophers, the assassins of our kings, still dare to
lift up their voices in such a century as that? "Men are on the eve of a
great revolution in the human mind, and it is you to whom they are most
of all indebted for it."[149]

More than once Voltaire entreated Diderot to finish his work in a
foreign country where his hands would be free. "No," said Diderot in a
reply of pathetic energy; "to abandon the work is turning our back upon
the breach, and to do precisely what the villains who persecute us
desire. If you knew with what joy they have learnt D'Alembert's
desertion! It is not for us to wait until the government have punished
the brigands to whom they have given us up. Is it for us to complain,
when they associate with us in their insults men who are so much better
than ever we shall be? What ought we to do then? Do what becomes men of
courage,--despise our foes, follow them up, and take advantage, as we
have done, of the feebleness of our censors. If D'Alembert resumes, and
we complete our work, is not that vengeance enough?... After all this,
you will believe that I cling at any price to the Encyclopædia, and you
will be mistaken. My dear master, I am over forty. I am tired out with
tricks and shufflings. I cry from morning till night for rest, rest; and
scarcely a day passes when I am not tempted to go and live in obscurity
and die in peace in the depths of my old country. There comes a time
when all ashes are mingled. Then what will it boot me to have been
Voltaire or Diderot, or whether it is your three syllables or my three
syllables that survive? One must work, one must be useful, one owes an
account of one's gifts, etcetera, etcetera. Be useful to men! Is it
quite clear that one does more than amuse them, and that there is much
difference between the philosopher and the flute-player? They listen to
one or the other with pleasure or disdain, and remain what they were.
The Athenians were never wickeder than in the time of Socrates, and
perhaps all that they owe to his existence is a crime the more. That
there is more spleen than good sense in all this, I admit--and back I go
to the Encyclopædia."[150]

Thus for seven years the labour of conducting the vast enterprise fell
upon Diderot alone. He had not only to write articles upon the most
exhausting and various kinds of subjects; he had also to distribute
topics among his writers, to shape their manuscripts, to correct
proof-sheets, to supervise the preparation of the engravings, to write
the text explanatory of them, and all this amid constant apprehension
and alarm from the government and the police. He would have been free
from persecution at Lausanne or at Leyden. The two great sovereigns of
the north who thought it part of the trade of a king to patronise the
new philosophy, offered him shelter at Petersburg or Berlin.[151]

But how could he transport to the banks of the Neva or the Spree his
fifty skilled compositors, his crafty engravers on copper-plate, and all
the host of his industrial army? How could he find in those
half-barbarous lands the looms and engines and thousand cunning
implements and marvellous processes which he had under his eye and ready
to his hand in France? And so he held fast to his post on the fifth
floor of the house in the Rue Saint Benoît, a standing marvel to the
world of letters for all time.

As his toil was drawing to a close, he suddenly received the most
mortifying of all the blows that were struck at him in the course of his
prolonged, hazardous, and tormenting adventure. After the interruption
in 1759, it was resolved to bring out the ten volumes which were still
wanting, in a single issue. Le Breton was entrusted with the business of
printing them. The manuscript was set in type, Diderot corrected the
proof-sheets, saw the revises, and returned each sheet duly marked with
his signature for the press. At this point the nefarious operation of Le
Breton began. He and his foreman took possession of the sheets, and
proceeded to retrench, cut out, and suppress every passage, line, or
phrase, that appeared to them to be likely to provoke clamour or the
anger of the government. They thus, of their own brute authority,
reduced most of the best articles to the condition of fragments
mutilated and despoiled of all that had been most valuable in them. The
miscreants did not even trouble themselves to secure any appearance of
order or continuity in these mangled skeletons of articles. Their
murderous work done, they sent the pages to the press, and to make the
mischief beyond remedy, they committed all the original manuscripts and
proof-sheets to the flames. One day, when the printing was nearly
completed (1764), Diderot having occasion to consult an article under
the letter S, found it entirely spoiled. He stood confounded. An
instant's thought revealed the printer's atrocity. He eagerly turned to
the articles on which he and his subordinates had taken most pains, and
found everywhere the same ravages and disorder. "The discovery," says
Grimm, "threw him into a state of frenzy and despair which I shall never
forget."[152] He wept tears of rage and torment in the presence of the
criminal himself, and before wife and children and sympathising
domestics. For weeks he could neither eat nor sleep. "For years," he
cried to Le Breton, "you have been basely cheating me. You have
massacred, or got a brute beast to massacre, the work of twenty good men
who have devoted to you their time, their talents, their vigils, from
love of right and truth, from the simple hope of seeing their ideas
given to the public, and reaping from them a little consideration richly
earned, which your injustice and thanklessness have now stolen from them
for ever.... You and your book will be dragged through the mire; you
will henceforth be cited as a man who has been guilty of an act of
treachery, an act of vile hardihood, to which nothing that has ever
happened in this world can be compared. Then you will be able to judge
your panic terror, and the cowardly counsels of those barbarous
Ostrogoths and stupid Vandals who helped you in the havoc you have

Yet he remained undaunted to the very last. His first movement to throw
up the work, and denounce Le Breton's outrage to the subscribers and the
world, was controlled. His labour had lost its charm. The monument was
disfigured and defaced. He never forgot the horrible chagrin, and he
never forgave the ignoble author of it. But the last stone was at length
laid. In 1765 the subscribers received the concluding ten volumes of
letterpress. The eleven volumes of plates were not completed until 1772.
The copies bore Neufchâtel on the title-page, and were distributed
privately. The clergy in their assembly at once levelled a decree at the
new book. The parliament quashed this, not from love of the book, but
from hatred of the clergy. The government, however, ordered all who
possessed the Encyclopædia to deliver it over forthwith to the police.
Eventually the copies were returned to their owners with some petty

Voltaire has left us a vivacious picture of authority in grave
consultation over the great engine of destruction. With that we may
conclude our account of its strange eventful history.

     A servant of Lewis xv. told me that one day the king his
     master supping at Trianon with a small party, the talk
     happened to turn first upon the chase, and next on gunpowder.
     Some one said that the best powder was made of equal parts of
     saltpetre, of sulphur, and of charcoal. The Duke de la
     Vallière, better informed, maintained that to make good
     gunpowder you required one part of sulphur and one of charcoal
     to five parts of saltpetre.

     "It is curious," said the Duke de Nivernois, "that we should
     amuse ourselves every day in killing partridges at Versailles,
     and sometimes in killing men or getting ourselves killed on
     the frontier, without knowing exactly how the killing is

     "Alas," said Madame de Pompadour, "we are all reduced to that
     about everything in the world: I don't know how they compound
     the rouge that I put on my cheeks, and I should be vastly
     puzzled if they were to ask me how they make my silk

     "'Tis a pity, then," said the Duke de la Vallière, "that his
     Majesty should have confiscated our Encyclopædias, which cost
     us a hundred pistoles apiece: we should soon find there an
     answer to all our difficulties."

     The king justified the confiscation: he had been warned that
     one-and-twenty folios, that were to be found on the
     dressing-tables of all the ladies, were the most dangerous
     thing in all the world for the kingdom of France; and he meant
     to find out for himself whether this were true or not, before
     letting people read the book. When supper was over, he sent
     three lackeys for the book, and they returned each with a good
     deal of difficulty carrying seven volumes.

     It was then seen from the article _Powder_ that the Duke de la
     Vallière was right; and then Madame de Pompadour learnt the
     difference between the old rouge of Spain, with which the
     ladies of Madrid coloured their faces, and the rouge of the
     ladies of Paris. She knew that the Greek and Roman ladies
     were painted with the purple that came from the _murex_, and
     that therefore our scarlet is the purple of the ancients; that
     there was more saffron in the rouge of Spain, and more
     cochineal in that of France.

     She saw how they made her stockings by loom; and the machine
     transported her with amazement.

     Everyone threw himself on the volumes like the daughters of
     Lycomedes on the ornaments of Ulysses; every one immediately
     found all he sought. Those who were at law were surprised to
     see their affair decided. The king read all about the rights
     of his crown. "But upon my word," he said, "I can't tell why
     they spoke so ill of this book." "Do you not see, sire," said
     the Duke de Nivernois, "it is because the book is so good;
     people never cry out against what is mediocre or common in
     anything. If women seek to throw ridicule on a new arrival,
     she is sure to be prettier than they are."

     All this time they kept on turning over the leaves; and the
     Count de C---- said aloud--"Sire, how happy you are, that
     under your reign men should be found capable of understanding
     all the arts and transmitting them to posterity. Everything is
     here, from the way to make a pin down to the art of casting
     and pointing your guns; from the infinitely little up to the
     infinitely great. Thank God for having brought into the world
     in your kingdom the men who have done such good work for the
     whole universe. Other nations must either buy the
     Encyclopædia, or else they must pirate it. Take all my
     property if you will, but give me back my Encyclopædia."

     "Yet they say," replied the king, "that there are many faults
     in this work, necessary and admirable as it is."

     "Sire," said the Count de C----, "there were at your supper
     two ragouts which were failures; we left them uneaten, and yet
     we had excellent cheer. Would you have had them throw all the
     supper out of the window because of those two ragouts?..."

     Envy and Ignorance did not count themselves beaten; the two
     immortal sisters continued their cries, their cabals, their
     persecutions. What happened? Foreigners brought out four
     editions of this French book which in France was proscribed,
     and they gained about 1,800,000 crowns.[154]

In a monotonous world it is a pity to spoil a striking effect, yet one
must be vigilant. It has escaped the attention of writers who have
reproduced this lively scene, that Madame de Pompadour was dead before
the volumes containing Powder and Rouge were born. The twenty-one
volumes were not published until 1765, and she died in the spring of the
previous year. But the substance of the story is probably true, though
Voltaire has only made a slip in a name.

As to the reference with which Voltaire impatiently concludes, we have
to remember that the work was being printed at Geneva as it came out in
Paris. It was afterwards reprinted as a whole both at Geneva (1777) and
at Lausanne (1778). An edition appeared at Leghorn in 1770, and another
at Lucca in 1771. Immediately after the completion of the Encyclopædia
there began to appear volumes of selections from it. The compilers of
these anthologies (for instance of an _Esprit de l'Encydopédie_
published at Geneva in 1768) were free from all intention of
proselytising. They meant only to turn a more or less honest penny by
serving up in neat duodecimos the liveliest, most curious, and most
amusing pieces to be found in the immense mass of the folios of the

The Encyclopædia of Diderot, though not itself the most prodigious
achievement on which French booksellers may pride themselves, yet
inspired that achievement. In 1782 Panckoucke--a familiar name in the
correspondence of Voltaire and the Voltairean family--conceived the plan
of a Methodical Encyclopædia. This colossal work, which really consists
of a collection of special cyclopædias for each of the special sciences,
was not completed until 1832, and comprises one hundred and sixty-six
volumes of text, with a score more volumes of plates. It has no unity of
doctrine, no equal application of any set of philosophic principles, and
no definite social aim. The only encyclopædia since 1772 with which I am
acquainted, that is planned with a view to the presentation of a general
body of doctrine, is the unfinished Encyclopédie Nuevelle of Pìerre
Leroux and Jean Reynaud. This work was intended to apply the socialistic
and spiritualistic ideas of its authors over the whole field of
knowledge and speculation. The result is that it furnishes only a series
of dissertations, and is not an encyclopædia in the ordinary sense.[155]

The booksellers at first spoke of the Encyclopædia as an affair of two
million livres. It appeared, however that its cost did not go much
beyond one million one hundred and forty thousand livres. The gross
return was calculated to be nearly twice as much. The price to the
subscriber of the seven volumes up to 1757, of the ten volumes issued in
1765, and of the eleven volumes of plates completed in 1772, amounted to
nine hundred and eighty livres,[156] or about forty-three pounds
sterling of that date, equivalent in value to more than three times the
sum in money of to-day.

The payment received by Diderot is a little doubtful, and the terms were
evidently changed from time to time. His average salary, after
D'Alembert had quitted him, seems to have amounted to about three
thousand livres, or one hundred and thirty pounds sterling, per annum.
This coincides with Grimm's statement that the total sum received by
Diderot was sixty thousand livres, or about two thousand six hundred
pounds sterling.[157] And to think, cried Voltaire, when he heard of
Diderot's humble wage, that an army contractor makes twenty thousand
livres a day! Voltaire himself had made a profit of more than half a
million livres by a share in an army contract in the war of 1734, and
his yearly income derived from such gains and their prudent investment
was as high as seventy thousand livres, representing in value a sum not
far short of ten thousand pounds a year of our present money.


All writers on the movement of illumination in France in the eighteenth
century, call our attention to the quick transformation, which took
place after the middle of the century, of a speculative or philosophical
agitation into a political or social one. Readers often find some
difficulty in understanding plainly how or why this metamorphosis was
brought about. The metaphysical question which men were then so fond of
discussing, whether matter can think, appears very far removed indeed
from the sphere of political conceptions. The psychological question
whether our ideas are innate, or are solely given to us by experience
through the sensations, may strike the publicist as having the least
possible to do with the type of a government or the aims of a community.
Yet it is really the conclusions to which men come in this region, that
determine the quality of the civil sentiment and the significance of
political organisation. The theological doctors who persecuted De Prades
for suggestions of Locke's psychology, and for high treason against
Cartesianism, were guided by a right instinct of self-preservation. De
Maistre, by far the most acute and penetrating of the Catholic school,
was never more clear-sighted than when he made a vigorous and deliberate
onslaught upon Bacon, the centre of his movement against revolutionary

As we have said before, the immediate force of speculative literature
hangs on practical opportuneness. It was not merely because Bacon and
Hobbes and Locke had written certain books, that the Encyclopædists, who
took up their philosophic succession, inevitably became a powerful
political party, and multiplied their adherents in an increasing
proportion as the years went on. From various circumstances the attack
acquired a significance and a weight in France which it had never
possessed in England. For one thing, physical science had in the
interval taken immense strides. This both dwarfed the sovereignty of
theology and theological metaphysics, and indirectly disposed men's
minds for non-theological theories of moral as well as of physical
phenomena. In France, again, the objects of the attack were inelastic
and unyielding. Political speculation in England followed, and did not
precede, political innovation and reform. In France its light played
round institutions which were too deeply rooted in absolutism and
privilege to be capable of substantial modification. Deism was
comparatively impotent against the Church of England, first, because it
was an intellectual movement, and not a social one; second, because the
constitutional doctrines of the church were flexible. Deism in the hands
of its French propagators became connected with social liberalism,
because the Catholic church in those days was identified with all the
ideas of repression. And the tendencies of deism in France grew more
violently destructive, not only because religious superstition was
grosser, but because that superstition was incorporated in a strong and
inexpansible social structure.

"It would be a mistake," wrote that sagacious and well-informed
observer, D'Argenson, so early as 1753, "to attribute the loss of
religion in France to the English philosophy, which has not gained more
than a hundred philosophers or so in Paris, instead of setting it down
to the hatred against the priests, which goes to the very last extreme.
All minds are turning to discontent and disobedience, and everything is
on the high road to a great revolution, both in religion and in
government. And it will be a very different thing to that rude
Reformation, a medley of superstition and freedom, which came to us from
Germany in the sixteenth century! As our nation and our century are
enlightened in so very different a fashion, they will go whither they
ought to go; they will banish every priest, all priesthood, all
revelation, all mystery." This, however, only represents the destructive
side of the vast change which D'Argenson then foresaw, six-and-thirty
years before its consummation. That change had also a constructive side.
If one of its elements was hate, another and more important element was
hope. This constructive and reforming spirit which made its way in the
intelligence of the leading men in France from 1750 to 1789, was
represented in the encyclopædic confederation, and embodied in their
forty folios. And, to return to our first point, it was directly and
inseparably associated with the philosophy of Bacon and Locke. What is
the connection between their speculations and a vehement and energetic
spirit of social reform? We have no space here to do more than barely
hint the line of answer.

The broad features of the speculative revolution of which the
Encyclopædia was the outcome, lie on the surface of its pages and cannot
be mistaken. The transition from Descartes to Newton meant the definite
substitution of observation for hypothesis. The exaltation of Bacon
meant the advance from supernatural explanations to explanations from
experience. The acceptance and development of the Lockian psychology
meant the reference of our ideas to bodily sensations, and led men by
what they thought a tolerably direct path to the identification of mind
with functions of matter. We need not here discuss the philosophical
truth or adequateness of these ways of considering the origin and nature
of knowledge, or the composition of human character. All that now
concerns us is to mark their tendency. That tendency clearly is to expel
Magic as the decisive influence among us, in favour of ordered relations
of cause and effect, only to be discovered by intelligent search. The
universe began to be more directly conceived as a group of phenomena
that are capable of rational and connected explanation. Then, the wider
the area of law, the greater is man's consciousness of his power of
controlling forces, and securing the results that he desires. Objective
interests and their conditions acquire an increasing preponderance in
his mind. On the other hand, as the limits of science expand, so do the
limits of nescience become more definite. The more we know of the
universal order, the more are we persuaded, however gradually and
insensibly, that certain matters which men believed themselves to know
outside of this phenomenal order, are in truth inaccessible by those
instruments of experience and observation to which we are indebted for
other knowledge. Hence, a natural inclination to devote our faculty to
the forces within our control, and to withdraw it from vain industry
about forces--if they be forces--which are beyond our control and beyond
our apprehension. Thus man becomes the centre of the world to himself,
nature his servant and minister, human society the field of his
interests and his exertions. The sensational psychology, again, whether
scientifically defensible or not, clearly tends to heighten our idea of
the power of education and institutions upon character. The more vividly
we realise the share of external impressions in making men what they
are, the more ready we shall be to concern ourselves with external
conditions and their improvement. The introduction of the positive
spirit into the observation of the facts of society was not to be
expected until the Cartesian philosophy, with its reliance on
inexplicable intuitions and its exaggeration of the method of
hypothesis, had been laid aside.

Diderot struck a key-note of difference between the old Catholic spirit
and the new social spirit, between quietist superstition and energetic
science, in the casual sentence in his article on alms-houses and
hospitals: "_It would be far more important to work at the prevention of
misery, than to multiply places of refuge for the miserable_."

It is very easy to show that the Encyclopædists had not established an
impregnable scientific basis for their philosophy. Anybody can now see
that their metaphysic and psychology were imperfectly thought out. The
important thing is that their metaphysic and psychology were calculated,
notwithstanding all their superficialities, to inspire an energetic
social spirit, because they were pregnant with humanistic sentiment. To
represent the Encyclopædia as the gospel of negation and denial is to
omit four-fifths of its contents. Men may certainly, if they please,
describe it as merely negative work, for example, to denounce such
institutions as examination and punishment by Torture (See _Question,
Peine_), but if so, what gospel of affirmation can bring better
blessings?[159] If the metaphysic of these writers had been a
thousandfold more superficial than it was, what mattered that, so long
as they had vision for every one of the great social improvements on
which the progress and even the very life of the nation depended? It
would be obviously unfair to say that reasoned interest in social
improvement is incompatible with a spiritualistic doctrine, but we are
justified in saying that energetic faith in possibilities of social
progress has been first reached through the philosophy of sensation and

In describing the encyclopædic movement as being, among other things,
the development of political interest under the presiding influence of a
humanistic philosophy, we are using the name of politics in its widest
sense. The economic conditions of a country, and the administration of
its laws, are far more vitally related to its well-being than the form
of its government. The form of government is indeed a question of the
first importance, but then this is owing in a paramount degree to the
influence which it may have upon the other two sets of elements in the
national life. Form of government is like the fashion of a man's
clothes; it may fret or may comfort him, may be imposing or mean, may
react upon his spirits to elate or depress them. In either case it is
less intimately related to his welfare than the state of his blood and
tissues. In saying, then, that the Encyclopædists began a political
work, what is meant is that they drew into the light of new ideas,
groups of institutions, usages, and arrangements which affected the real
well-being and happiness of France, as closely as nutrition affected the
health and strength of an individual Frenchman. It was the
Encyclopædists who first stirred opinion in France against the
iniquities of colonial tyranny and the abominations of the slave trade.
They demonstrated the folly and wastefulness and cruelty of a fiscal
system that was eating the life out of the land. They protested in
season and out of season against arrangements which made the
administration of justice a matter of sale and purchase. They lifted up
a strong voice against the atrocious barbarities of an antiquated penal
code. It was this band of writers, organised by a harassed man of
letters, and not the nobles swarming round Lewis XV., nor the churchmen
singing masses, who first grasped the great principle of modern society,
the honour that is owed to productive industry. They were vehement for
the glories of peace, and passionate against the brazen glories of

We are not to suppose that the Encyclopædia was the originating organ
of either new methods or new social ideas. The exalted and peculiarly
modern views about peace, for instance, were plainly inspired from the
writings of the Abbé Saint Pierre (1658-1743)--one of the most original
spirits of the century, who deserves to be remembered among other good
services as the inventor of the word _bienfaisance_. Again, in the mass
of the political articles we feel the immense impulse that was given to
sociological discussion by the Esprit des Lois. Few questions are
debated here, which Montesquieu had not raised, and none are debated
without reference to Montesquieu's line of argument. The change of which
we are conscious in turning from the Esprit des Lois to the Encyclopædia
is that political ideas have been grasped as instruments. Philosophy has
become patriotism. The Encyclopædists advanced with grave solicitude to
the consideration of evils, to which the red-heeled parasites of
Versailles were insolently and incorrigibly blind.

The articles on Agriculture, for example, are admirable alike for the
fulness and precision with which they expose the actual state of France;
for the clearness with which they trace its deplorable inadequateness
back to the true sources; and for the strong interest and sympathy in
the subject, which they both exhibit and inspire. If now and again the
touch is too idyllic, it was still a prodigious gain to let the country
know in a definite way that of the fifty million arpents of cultivable
land in the realm, more than one quarter lay either unbroken or
abandoned. And it was a prodigious gain to arouse the attention of the
general public to the causes of the forced deterioration of French
agriculture, namely, the restrictions on trade in grain, the
arbitrariness of the imposts, and the flight of the population to the
large towns. Then the demonstration, corroborated in the pages of the
Encyclopædia by the two patriotic vaunts of contemporary English
writers, of the stimulus given to agriculture by our system of free
exports, contained one of the most useful lessons that the French had to

Again, there are some abuses which cannot be more effectively attacked,
than by a mere statement of the facts in the plainest and least
argumentative terms. The history of such an impost as the tax upon salt
(_Gabelle_), and a bold outline of the random and incongruous fashions
in which it was levied, were equivalent to a formal indictment. It
needed no rhetoric nor discussion to heighten the harsh injustice of the
rule that "persons who have changed domicile are still taxed for a
certain time in the seat of their former abode, namely, farmers and
labourers for one year, and all other tax-payers for two years, provided
the parish to which they have removed is within the same district; and
if otherwise, then farmers to pay for two years, and other persons for
three years" (_Taille_). Thus a man under the given circumstances would
have to pay double taxes for three years as a penalty for changing his
dwelling. We already hear the murmur of the _cahiers_ of five-and-twenty
years later in the account of the transports of joy with which the
citizens of Lisieux saw the _taille proportionelle_ established (1718),
and how numerous other cities sent up prayers that the same blessing
might be conferred on them. "Reasons that it is not for us to divine,
caused the rejection of these demands; so hard is it to do a good act,
which everybody talks about, much more in order to seem to desire it,
than from any intention of really doing it.... To illustrate the
advantages of this plan, the impost of 1718 with all arrears for five
years was discharged in twelve months without needless cost or dispute.
By an extravagance more proper than any other to degrade humanity, the
common happiness made malcontents of all that class whose prosperity
depends on the misery of others,"--that is the privileged class.[161]

It is no innate factiousness, as flighty critics of French affairs
sometimes imply, that has made civil equality the passion of modern
France. The root of this passion is an undying memory of the curse that
was inflicted on its citizens, morally and materially, by the fiscal
inequalities of the old _régime_. The article, _Privilegé_, urges the
desirableness of inquiring into the grounds of the vast multitude of
fiscal exemptions, and of abolishing all that were no longer associated
with the performance of real and useful service. "A bourgeois," says
the writer, anticipating a cry that was so soon to ring through the
land, "a bourgeois in comfortable circumstances, and who could himself
pay half of the _taille_ of a whole parish, if it were imposed in its
due proportion,--on payment of the amount of his taxes for one or for
two years, and often for less; without birth, education, or talents,
buys a place in a local salt office, or some useless charge at court, or
in the household of some prince.... This man proceeds to enjoy in the
public eye all the exemptions possessed by the nobility and the high
magistracy.... From such an abuse of privileges spring two very
considerable evils: the poorer part of the citizens are always burdened
beyond their strength, though they are the most useful to the State,
since this class is composed of those who cultivate the land, and
procure a subsistence for the upper classes; the other evil is that
privileges disgust persons of education and talent with the idea of
entering the magistracy or other professions demanding labour and
application, and lead them to prefer small posts and paltry offices."
And so forth, with a gravity and moderation, that were then common in
political discussion in France. It gradually disappeared in 1789, when
it was found that the privileged orders, even at that time, in their
_cahiers_ steadily demanded the maintenance of every one of their most
odious and iniquitous rights.[162]

When it is said, then, that the Encyclopædists deliberately prepared
the way for a political revolution, let us remember that what they
really did was to shed the light of rational discussion on such
practical grievances as even the most fatuous conservative in France
does not now dream of bringing back.

Let us turn to two other of the most oppressive institutions that then
scourged France. First the _Corvée_, or feudal rule which forced every
unprivileged farmer and peasant in France to furnish so many days'
labour for the maintenance of the highways. Arthur Young tells us, and
the statement is confirmed by the Minutes of Turgot, that this wasteful,
cruel, and inefficient system was annually the ruin of many hundreds of
persons, and he mentions that no less than three hundred farmers were
reduced to beggary in filling up a single vale in Lorraine.[163] Under
this all-important head, the Encyclopædia has an article that does not
merely add to the knowledge of its readers by a history of the
_corvées_, but proceeds to discuss, as in a pamphlet or review article,
the inconveniences of the prevailing system, and presses schemes for
avoiding them. Turgot had not yet shown in practice the only right
substitute. The article was printed in 1754, and it was not until ten
years later that this great administrator, then become intendant of the
Limousin, did away in his district with compulsory personal service on
the roads, and required in its place a money payment assessed on the
parishes.[164] The writer of the article in the Encyclopædia does not
anticipate this obviously rational plan, but he paints a striking
picture of the thousand abuses and miserable inefficiencies of the
practice of _corvées_, and his piece illustrates that vigorous
discussion of social subjects which the Encyclopædia stimulated. It is
worth remarking that this writer was a sub-engineer of roads and bridges
in the generality of Tours. The case is one example among others of the
importance of the Encyclopædia as a centre, to which active-minded men
of all kinds might bring the fruits of their thought and observation.

Next to the _corvées_, the monster grievance of the third estate was the
system of enrolments for the militia. The article, _Milice_, is very
short, but it goes to the root of the matter. The only son of a
cultivator of moderate means, forced to quit the paternal roof at the
moment when his labour might recompense his straitened parents for the
expense of having brought him up, is justly described as an irreparable
loss. The writer, after hinting that it would be well if such an
institution were wholly dispensed with, urges that at least its object
might be more effectively and more humanely reached by allowing each
parish to provide its due contingent of men in its own way. This change
was indeed already (1765) being carried out by Turgot in the Limousin,
and with excellent results. The writer concludes with the highly
civilised remark, that we ought to weigh whether the good of the rural
districts, the culture of the land, and population, are not preferable
objects to the glory of setting enormous hosts of armed men on foot
after the example of Xerxes. Alas, it is one of the discouragements of
the student of history, that he often finds highly civilised remarks
made one or two or twenty centuries ago, which are just as useful and
just as little heeded now as they were when they were made.

The same reflection occurs to one in reading the article on Foundations.
As I have already said, this carefully written and sagacious piece still
remains the most masterly discussion we possess of the advantages and
disadvantages of endowments. Even now, and in our own country, the most
fertile and beneficent work to which a statesman of energy and courage
could devote himself, would be an application of the wise principles
which were established in the Encyclopædia. Passing from _Fondation_ to
_Foire_ in the same volume, also from the pen of Turgot, we see an
almost equally striking example of the economic wisdom of the
encyclopædic school. The provincial fairs, with their privileges,
exemptions, exclusions, were a conspicuous case of the mischief done by
that "mania for regulating and guiding everything," which then infected
commercial administration, and interrupted the natural course of trade
by imbecile vexations of police. Another vicious example of the same
principle is exposed in the article on _Maîtrises_. This must have
convinced every reader capable of rising above "the holy laws of
prejudice," how bad faith, idleness, disorder, and all the other evils
of monopoly were fomented by a system of jealous trade-guilds, carrying
compulsory subdivision and restriction of all kinds of skilled labour
down to a degree that would have been laughable enough, if it had only
been less destructive.

One of the loudest cries in 1789 was for the destruction of game and the
great manorial chases or capitaineries. "By game," says Arthur Young,
"must be understood whole droves of wild boars, and herds of deer not
confined by any wall or pale, but wandering at pleasure over the whole
country to the destruction of crops, and to the peopling of the galleys
by the wretched peasants who presumed to kill them, in order to save
that food which was to support their helpless children."[165] In the
same place he enumerates the outrageous and incredible rules which
ruined agriculture over hundreds of leagues of country, in order that
the seigneurs might have sport. In most matters the seven volumes of the
Encyclopædia which were printed before 1757, are more reserved than the
ten volumes which were conducted by Diderot alone after the great schism
of 1759. On the subject of sport, however, the writer of the article
_Chasse_ enumerates all the considerations which a patriotic minister
could desire to see impressed on public opinion. Some of the paragraphs
startle us by their directness and freedom of complaint, and even a very
cool reader would still be likely to feel some of the wrath that was
stirred in the breast of our shrewd and sober Arthur Young a generation
later (1787). "Go to the residence of these great nobles," he says,
"wherever it may be, and you would probably find them in the midst of a
forest, very well peopled with deer, wild boar, and wolves. Oh! if I
were the legislator of France for a day, I would make such great lords

This brings us to what is perhaps the most striking of all the guiding
sentiments of the book. Virgil's Georgics have been described as a
glorification of labour. The Encyclopædia seems inspired by the same
motive, the same earnest enthusiasm for all the purposes, interests, and
details of productive industry. Diderot, as has been justly said,
himself the son of a cutler, might well bring handiwork into honour;
assuredly he had inherited from his good father's workshop sympathy and
regard for skill and labour.[167] The illustrative plates to which
Diderot gave the most laborious attention for a period of almost thirty
years, are not only remarkable for their copiousness, their clearness,
their finish--and in all these respects they are truly admirable--but
they strike us even more by the semi-poetic feeling that transforms the
mere representation of a process into an animated scene of human life,
stirring the sympathy and touching the imagination of the onlooker as by
something dramatic. The bustle, the dexterity, the alert force of the
iron foundry, the glass furnace, the gunpowder mill, the silk calendry
are as skilfully reproduced as the more tranquil toil of the dairywoman,
the embroiderer, the confectioner, the setter of types, the compounder
of drugs, the chaser of metals. The drawings recall that eager and
personal interest in his work, that nimble complacency, which is so
charming a trait in the best French craftsman. The animation of these
great folios of plates is prodigious. They affect one like looking down
on the world of Paris from the heights of Montmartre. To turn over
volume after volume is like watching a splendid panorama of all the busy
life of the time. Minute care is as striking in them as their
comprehensiveness. The smallest tool, the knot in a thread, the ply in a
cord, the curve of wrist or finger, each has special and proper
delineation. The reader smiles at a complete and elaborate set of
tailor's patterns. He shudders as he comes upon the knives, the probes,
the bandages, the posture, of the wretch about to undergo the most
dangerous operation in surgery. In all the chief departments of industry
there are plates good enough to serve for practical specifications and
working drawings. It has often been told how Diderot himself used to
visit the workshops, to watch the men at work, to put a thousand
questions, to sit down at the loom, to have the machine pulled to pieces
and set together again before his eyes, to slave like any apprentice,
and to do bad work, in order, as he says, to be able to instruct others
how to do good work. That was no movement of empty rhetoric which made
him cry out for the Encyclopædia to become a sanctuary in which human
knowledge might find shelter against time and revolutions. He actually
took the pains to make it a complete storehouse of the arts, so perfect
in detail that they could be at once reconstructed after a deluge in
which everything had perished save a single copy of the Encyclopædia.
Such details, said D'Alembert, will perhaps seem extremely out of place
to certain scholars, for whom a long dissertation on the cookery or the
hair-dressing of the ancients, or on the site of a ruined hamlet, or on
the baptismal name of some obscure writer of the tenth century, would be
vastly interesting and precious. He suggests that details of economy,
and of arts and trades, have as good a right to a place as the
scholastic philosophy, or some system of rhetoric still in use, or the
mysteries of heraldry. Yet none even of these had been passed over.[168]

The importance given to physical science and the practical arts, in the
Encyclopædia, is the sign and exemplification of two elements of the
great modern transition. It marks both a social and an intellectual
revolution. We see in it, first, the distinct association with pacific
labour, of honour and a kind of glory, such as had hitherto been
reserved for knights and friars, for war and asceticism, for fighting
and praying.

It is the definite recognition of the basis of a new society. If the
nobles and the churchmen could only have understood, as clearly as
Diderot and D'Alembert understood, the irresistible forces that were
making against the maintenance of the worn-out system, all the worst of
the evils attending the great political changes of the last decade of
the century would have been avoided. That the nobles and churchmen would
not see this, was the fatality of the Revolution. We have a glimpse of
the profound transformation of social ideas which was at work in the
five or six lines of the article, _Journalier_. "Journeyman--a workman
who labours with his hands, and is paid day-wages. This description of
men forms the great part of a nation; it is their lot which a good
government ought to keep principally in sight. If the journeyman is
miserable, the nation is miserable." And again: "The net profit of a
society, if equally distributed, may be preferable to a larger profit,
if it be distributed unequally, and have the effect of dividing the
people into two classes, one gorged with riches, the other perishing in
misery" (_Homme_).

The second element in the modern transition is only the intellectual
side of the first. It is the substitution of interest in things for
interest in words, of positive knowledge for verbal disputation. Few now
dispute the services of the schoolmen to the intellectual development of
Europe. But conditions had fully ripened, and it was time to complete
the movement of Bacon and Descartes by finally placing verbal analysis,
verbal definition, verbal inferences, in their right position. Form was
no longer to take precedence of matter. The Encyclopædists are never
weary of contrasting their own age of practical rationalism with "the
pusillanimous ages of taste." A great collection of books is described
in one article (_Bibliomanie_) as a collection of material for the
history of the blindness and infatuation of mankind. The gatherer of
books is compared to one who should place five or six gems under a pile
of common pebbles. If a man of sense buys a work in a dozen volumes, and
finds that only half a dozen pages are worth reading, he does well to
cut out the half dozen pages and fling the rest into the fire. Finally,
it would be no unbecoming device for every great library to have
inscribed over its portal, The Bedlam of the Human Mind. At this point
one might perhaps suggest to D'Alembert that study of the pathology of
the mind is no bad means of surprising the secrets of humanity and life.
For his hour, however, the need was not knowledge of the thoughts,
dreams, and mental methods of the past, but better mastery of the aids
and instruments of active life. In any case Diderot was right when he
expressed his preference for the essay over the treatise: "an essay
where the writer throws me one or two ideas of genius, almost isolated,
rather than a treatise where the precious gems are stifled beneath a
mass of iteration.... A man had only one idea; the idea demanded no more
than a phrase; this phrase, full of marrow and meaning, would have been
seized with relish; washed out in a deluge of words, it wearies and
disgusts."[169] Rousseau himself does not surpass Diderot or D'Alembert
in contempt for mere bookishness. We wholly misjudge the Encyclopædia,
if we treat it either as literature or philosophy.

The attitude of the Encyclopædia to religion is almost universally
misrepresented in the common accounts. We are always told that the aim
of its conductors was to preach dogmatic atheism. Such a statement could
not be made by any one who had read the theological articles, whether
the more or the less important among them. Whether Diderot had himself
advanced definitely to the dogma of atheism at this time or not, it is
certain that the Encyclopædia represents only the phase of rationalistic
scepticism. That the criticism was destructive of much of the fabric of
popular belief, and was designed to destroy it, is undeniable, as it was
inevitable. But when the excesses of '93 and '94--and all the
revolutionary excesses put together are but a drop compared with the
oceans of bloodshed with which Catholicism and absolutism have made
history crimson--when the crimes and confusion of the end of the century
are traced by historians to the materialism and atheism of the
Encyclopædia, we can only say that such an account is a
misrepresentation. The materialism and atheism are not there. The
religious attack was prompted and guided by the same social feeling
that inspired the economic articles. The priest was the enemy of
society, the patron of indolence, the hater of knowledge, the mutineer
against the civil laws, the unprofitable devourer of the national
substance, the persecutor. Sacerdotalism is the object of the
encyclopædic attack. To undermine this, it was necessary first to
establish the principle of toleration, because the priest claims to be
recognised as the exclusive possessor of saving doctrine. Second, it was
necessary to destroy the principle of miracle, because the priest
professes himself in his daily rites the consecrated instrument of
thaumaturgy. "Let a man," says Rosenkranz very truly, "turn over
hundreds of histories of church, of state, of literature, and in every
one of them he will read that the Encyclopædia spread abroad an
irreligious spirit. The accusation has only a relative truth, to the
extent that the Encyclopædia assailed the belief in miracles, and the
oppression of conscience supported by a priestly aristocracy."[170]

It must be admitted that no consistent and definite language is adhered
to from beginning to end. D'Alembert's prophecy that time would disclose
to people what the writers really thought, behind what fear of the
censorship compelled them to say, is only partially fulfilled.

The idea of miracle is sapped not by direct arguments, but by the
indirect influences of science, and the exposition of the successes of
scientific method. It was here that the Encyclopædia exerted really
destructive power, and it did so in the only way in which power of that
kind can be exerted either wisely or effectually. The miracle of a
divine revelation, of grace, of the mass, began to wear a different look
in men's eyes, as they learned more of the physical processes of the
universe. We should describe the work of the Encyclopædia as being to
make its readers lose their interest, rather than their belief, in
mysteries. This is the normal process of theological dissolution. It
unfolded a vast number of scientific conceptions in all branches of
human activity, a surprising series of acquisitions, a vivid panorama of
victories won by the ingenuity and travail of man. A contemplation of
the wonders that man had wrought for himself, replaced meditation on the
wonders that were alleged to have been wrought by the gods. The latter
were not so much denied by the plain reader, as they were gradually left
out of sight and forgotten. Nobody now cares to disprove Jupiter and
Juno, Satyrs and Hamadryads.

Diderot constantly insists on the propriety, the importance, the
indispensableness of keeping the provinces of science and philosophy
apart from the province of theology. This separation is much sought in
our own day as a means of saving theology. Diderot designed it to save
philosophy. He felt that the distinct recognition of positive thought as
supreme within the widest limits then covered by it, would ultimately
lead to the banishment of theological thought to a region of its own,
too distant and too infertile for men to weary themselves in pursuit of
it. His conception was to supplant the old ways of thinking and the old
objects of intellectual interest by new ones. He trusted to the
intrinsic fitness and value of the new knowledge and new views of human
life, to displace the old. This marks him for a constructive thinker. He
replaced barren theological interests that had outlived their time, by
all those great groups of living and fruitful interests which glow and
sparkle in the volumes of the Encyclopædia. Here was the effective
damage that the Encyclopædia inflicted on the church as the organ of a
stationary superstition. Some of the articles remind us on what a
strange borderland France stood in those days, between debasing
credulity and wholesome light. We are so sensible of the new air that
breathes impalpably over the book, that when the old theological fancies
appear for form's sake, and are solemnly marshalled in orthodox state,
the contrast and the incongruity are so marked that one is amused by
what looks like a subtle irony, mocking the censor under his very eyes.
Who can help smiling at the grave question, _Adam, le premier de tous
les hommes, a-t-il été philosophe?_ Such disputes as whether it is
proper to baptize abortions, ceased to interest a public that had begun
to educate itself by discussions on the virtue of Inoculation.

Of the gross defects in the execution of the Encyclopædia nobody was so
sensible as Diderot himself. He drew up a truly formidable list of the
departments where the work was badly done.[171] But when the blunders
and omissions in each subject were all counted, the value of the vast
grouping of the subjects was hardly diminished. The union of all these
secular acquisitions in a single colossal work invested them with
something imposing. Secular knowledge was made to present a massive and
sumptuous front. It was pictured before the curious eyes of that
generation as a great city of glittering palaces and stately mansions;
or else as an immense landscape, with mountains, plains, rocks, waters,
forests, animals, and a thousand objects, glorious and beautiful in the
sunlight. Theology became visibly a shrivelled thing. Men grew to be
conscious of the vastness of the universe. At the same time and by the
same process the Encyclopædia gave them a key to the plan, a guiding
thread in the immense labyrinth. The genealogical tree, or
classification of arts and sciences, which with a few modifications was
borrowed from Bacon and appeared at the end of the Prospectus, is seen
to be faulty and inadequate. It distributes the various branches of
knowledge with reference to faculties of the human understanding,
instead of grouping them according to their objective relations to one
another. This led to many awkward results, as when the art of printing
is placed by the side of orthography as a subdivision of Logic, to which
also is given the art of heraldry or emblazonment. There is awkwardness
too in dividing architecture into three heads, and then placing civil
architecture under national jurisprudence, and naval architecture under
social jurisprudence, while under fine arts no kind of architecture has
any place. But when we have multiplied these objections to the
uttermost, the effect of the magnificence and vastness of the scheme
remains exactly what it was.

Even more important than the exposition of human knowledge was the
exposition of the degrees by which it had been slowly reared. The
Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopædia, of which by far the greater
and more valuable portion was written by D'Alembert, contains a fine
survey of the progress of science, thought, and letters since the
revival of learning. It is a generous canonisation of the great heroes
of secular knowledge. It is rapid, but the contributions of Bacon,
Descartes, Newton, Locke, Leibnitz are thrown into a series that
penetrates the reader's mind with the idea of ordered growth and
measured progress. This excited a vivid hopefulness of interest, which
insensibly but most effectually pressed the sterile propositions of
dogmatic theology into a dim and squalid background. Nor was this all.
The Preliminary Discourse and the host of articles marshalled behind it,
showed that the triumphs of knowledge and true opinion had all been
gained on two conditions. The first of these conditions was a firm
disregard of authority; the second was an abstention from the premature
concoction of system. The reign of ignorance and prejudice was made
inveterate by deference to tradition: the reign of truth was hindered by
the artificial boundary-marks set mischievously deep by the authors of
systems. As the whole spirit of theology is both essentially
authoritative and essentially systematic, this disparagement was full of
tolerably direct significance. It told in another way. The Sorbonne, the
universities, the doctors, had identified orthodoxy with Cartesianism.
"It is hard to believe," says D'Alembert in 1750, "that it is only
within the last thirty years that people have even begun to renounce
Cartesianism." He might have added that one of the most powerful of his
contemporaries, Montesquieu himself, remained a rigid Cartesian to the
end of his days. "Our nation," he says, "singularly eager as it is for
novelties in all matters of taste, is in matters of science extremely
attached to old opinions." This remark remains true of France to the
present hour, and it would be an interesting digression, did time allow,
to consider its significance. France can at all events count one master
innovator, the founder of Cartesianism himself. D'Alembert points out
that the disciples violate the first maxims of their chief. He describes
the hypothesis of vortices and the doctrine of innate ideas as no longer
tenable, and even as ridiculous; but do not let us forget, he says with
a fine movement of candour, that it was Descartes who opened the way; he
who set an example to men of intelligence, of shaking off the yoke of
scholasticism, of opinion, of authority--in a word, of prejudices and
barbarism. Those who remain faithful to his hypothetical system, while
they abandon his method, may be the last of his partisans, but they
would assuredly never have been the first of his disciples.

By system the Encyclopædists meant more or less coherent bodies of
frivolous conjecture. The true merit of the philosopher or the physicist
is described as being to have the spirit of system, yet never to
construct a system. The notion expressed in this sentence promises a
union of the advantages of an organic synthesis, with the advantages of
an open mind and unfettered inquiry. It would be ridiculous to think,
says D'Alembert, that there is nothing more to discover in anatomy,
because anatomists devote themselves to researches that may seem to be
of no use, and yet often prove to be full of use in their consequences.
Nor would it be less absurd to lay a ban on erudition, on the pretext
that our learned men often give themselves up to matters of trivial

We are constantly struck in the Encyclopædia by a genuine desire to
reach the best opinion by the only right way, the way of abundant,
many-sided, and liberal discussion. The article, for instance, on
_Fermes Générales_ contains an examination of the question whether it is
more expedient that the taxes of a nation should be gathered by farmers
of the revenue, or directly by the agents of the government acting on
its behalf and under its supervision. Montesquieu had argued strongly
in favour of a _Régie_, the second of these methods. The writer of the
article sets out the nine considerations by which Montesquieu had
endeavoured to establish his position, and then he offers on each of
them the strongest observations that occur to him in support of the
opposite conclusion. At the conclusion of the article, the editors of
the Encyclopædia append the following note: "Our professed impartiality
and our desire to promote the discussion and clearing up of an important
question, have induced us to insert this article. As the Encyclopædia
has for its principal aim the public advantage and instruction, we will
insert in the article, _Régie_, without taking any side, all such
reasons for and against, as people may he willing to submit to us,
provided they are stated with due sense and moderation." Alas, when we
turn to the article on _Régie_, the promise is unfulfilled, and a dozen
meagre lines disappoint the seeker. But eight years of storm had passed,
and many a beneficent intention had been wrecked. The announcement at
least shows us the aim and spirit of the original scheme.

Of the line of argument taken in the Encyclopædia as to Toleration we
need say nothing. The Encyclopædists were the most ardent propagators of
the modern principles of tolerance. No one has to be reminded that this
was something more than an abstract discussion among the doctors of
social philosophy, in a country where youths were broken on the wheel
for levity in face of an ecclesiastical procession, where nearly every
considerable man of the century had been either banished or imprisoned
for daring to use his mind, and which had been half ruined by the great
proscription of Protestants more than once renewed. The article
_Tolérance_ was greatly admired in its day, and it is an eloquent and
earnest reproduction of the pleas of Locke. One rather curious feature
in it is the reproduction of the passage from the Social Contract, in
which Rousseau explains the right of the magistrate to banish any
citizen who has not got religion enough to make him do his duties, and
who will not make a profession of civil faith. The writer of the article
interprets this as implying that "atheists in particular, who remove
from the powerful the only rein, and from the weak their only hope,"
have no right to claim toleration. This is an unexpected stroke in a
work that is vulgarly supposed to be a violent manifesto on behalf of

Diderot himself in an earlier article (_Intolérance_) had treated the
subject with more trenchant energy. He does not argue his points
systematically, but launches a series of maxims, as with set teeth,
clenched hands, and a brow like a thundercloud. He hails the oppressors
of his life, the priests and the parliaments, with a pungency that is
exhilarating, and winds up with a description of the intolerant as one
who forgets that a man is his fellow, and for holding a different
opinion, treats him like a ravening brute; as one who sacrifices the
spirit and precepts of his religion to his pride; as the rash fool who
thinks that the arch can only be upheld by his hands; as a man who is
generally without religion, and to whom it comes easier to have zeal
than morals. Every page of the Encyclopædia was, in fact, a plea for
toleration. This embittered the hostility of the churchmen to the work
more than its attack upon dogma. For most ecclesiastics valued power
more dearly than truth. And in power they valued most dearly the
atrocious right of silencing, by foul means or fair, all opinions that
were not official.


Having thus described the general character and purport of the
Encyclopædia, we have still to look at a special portion of it from a
more particular point of view. We have already shown how multifarious
were Diderot's labours as editor. It remains to give a short account of
his labours as a contributor. Everything was on the same vast scale. His
industry in writing would have been in itself most astonishing, even if
it had not been accompanied by the more depressing fatigue of revising
what others had written. Diderot's articles fill more than four of the
large volumes of his collected works.

The confusion is immense. The spirit is sometimes historical, sometimes
controversial; now critical, now dogmatic. In one place Diderot speaks
in his own proper person, in another as the neutral scribe writing to
the dictation of an unseen authority. There is no rigorous measure and
ordered proportion. We constantly pass from a serious treatise to a
sally, from an elaborate history to a caprice. There are not a few pages
where we know that Diderot is saying what he does not think. Some of the
articles seem only to have found a place because Diderot happened to
have taken an interest in their subjects at the moment. After reading
Voltaire's concise account of Imagination, we are amazed to find Diderot
devoting a larger space than Voltaire had needed for the subject at
large, to so subordinate and remote a branch of the matter as the Power
of the Imagination in Pregnant Women upon the Unborn Young. The article
on Theosophs would hardly have been so disproportionately long as it is,
merely for the sake of Paracelsus and Van Helmont and Poiret and the
Rosicrucians, unless Diderot happened to be curiously and
half-sympathetically brooding over the mixture of inspiration and
madness, of charlatanry and generous aim, of which these semi-mystic,
semi-scientific characters were composed.[173]

Many of Diderot's articles, again, have no rightful place in an
Encyclopædia. _Genius_, for instance, is dealt with in what is neither
more nor less than a literary essay, vigorous, suggestive, diffuse; and
containing, by the way, the curious assertion that, although there are
few errors in Locke and too few truths in Shaftesbury, yet Locke is only
an acute and comprehensive intelligence, while Shaftesbury is a genius
of the first order.

Under the word _Laborious_, we have only a dozen lines of angry reproach
against the despotism that makes men idle by making property uncertain.
Under such words as _Frivolous_, _Gallantry_, _Perfection_,
_Importance_, _Politeness_, _Melancholy_, _Glorieux_, the reader is
amused and edified by miniature essays on manners and character, seldom
ending without some pithy sentence and pointed moral. Sometimes (e.g.
_Grandeur_) we have a charming piece after the manner of La Bruyère.
Under the verb _Naítre_, which is placed in the department of grammar,
we find a passage so far removed from grammar as the following:--

"The terms of life and death have nothing absolute; they only designate
the successive states of one and the same being; for him who has been
strongly nourished in this philosophy, the urn that contains the ashes
of a father, a mother, a husband, a mistress, is truly a touching
object. There still remains in it life and warmth; these ashes may
perhaps even yet feel our tears and give them response; who knows if the
movement that our tears stir, as they water those ashes, is wholly
without sensibility?"

This little burst of grotesque sentimentalism is one of the pieces that
justify the description of Diderot as the most German of all the
French.[174] Equally characteristic and more sensible is the writer's
outbreak against Formalists. "The formalist knows exactly the proper
interval between receiving and returning a visit; he expects you on the
exact day at the exact time; if you fail, he thinks himself neglected
and takes offence. A single man of this stamp is enough to chill and
embarrass a whole company. There is nothing so repugnant to simple and
upright souls as formalities; as such people have within themselves the
consciousness of the good-will they bear to everybody, they neither
plague themselves to be constantly displaying a sentiment that is
habitual, nor to be constantly on the watch for it in others." This is
analogous to his contempt for the pedants who object to the use of a
hybrid word: "If it happens that a composite of a Greek word and a Latin
word renders the idea as well, and is easier to pronounce or pleasanter
to the ear than a compound of two Greek words and two Latin words, why
prefer the latter?" (_Hibrides_). Some articles are simply diatribes
against the enemy. _Pardon_, for instance: "It needs much attention,
much modesty, much skill to wring from others pardon for our
superiority. The men who have executed a foolish work, have never been
able to pardon us for projecting a better. We could have got from them
pardon for a crime, but never for a good action." And so forth, with
much magnanimous acrimony. _Prostitution_ is only introduced for the
pleasure of applying the unsavoury word to certain critics "of whom we
have so many in these days, and of whom we say that they prostitute
their pens to money, to favour, to lying, and to all the vices most
unworthy of an honourable man."

We are constantly being puzzled and diverted by Diderot's ingenuity in
wandering away from the topic nominally in hand, to insinuate some of
those doctrines of tolerance, of suspended judgment, or of liberty,
which lay so much nearer to his heart than any point of mere erudition.
There is a little article on Aius-Locutius, the Announcing Speaker, one
of the minor Roman gods. Diderot begins by a few lines describing the
rise of the deity into repute. He then quotes Cicero's pleasantry on the
friendly divinity, that when nobody in the world had ever heard of him,
he delivered a salutary oracle, but after people had built him a fine
temple, then the god of speech fell dumb. This suggests to Diderot to
wonder with edifying innocence how so religious a people as the Romans
endured these irreverent jests in their philosophers. By an easy step we
pass to the conditions on which modern philosophers should be allowed by
authority to publish their speculations. Diderot throws out the curious
hint that it would be best to forbid any writing against government and
religion in the vulgar tongue, and to allow those who write in a learned
tongue to publish what they please. And so we bid farewell to
Aius-Locutius. In passing, we ask ourselves whether Diderot's suggestion
is not available in the discussion of certain questions, where freedom
of speech in the vernacular tongue is scarcely compatible with the
_reverentia quæ debetur pueris_?

Diderot is never prevented by any mistaken sense of the dignity of his
enterprise from interspersing his disquisitions on science and
philosophy with such practical thoughts on the common matters of daily
life as come into his ingenious head. He suggests, for instance, by way
of preventing the frauds of cab-drivers on their masters and on the
public, that all payments of fares should be made to appointed officers
at the various cab-stations, and that no driver should take up a fare
except at one of these stations.[175] In writing about lackeys, after a
word on their insolence and on the wretched case in which most of them
end their days, he points out that the multitude of them is causing the
depopulation of the fields. They are countrymen who have thronged to
Paris to avoid military service. Peasants turned lackeys to escape the
conscription, just as in our own days they turn priests. Then, says
Diderot, this evil ought to be checked by a tax upon liveries; but such
a tax is far too sensible ever to be imposed.

Yet, notwithstanding the practical and fervid temper of his
understanding, Diderot is not above literary trifling when the humour
seizes him. If he can write an exhaustive article on Encyclopædia, or
Spinosa, or Academies, or Weaving, he can also stoop to Anagrams, and
can tell us that the letters of Frère Jacques Clément, the assassin of
Henry III., make up the sinister words, _C'est l'enfer qui m'a créé_. He
can write a couple of amusing pages on Onomatomancy, or divination of a
man's fortune from his name; and can record with neutral gravity how
frequently great empires have been destroyed under princes bearing the
same name as their first founders; how, again, certain names are unlucky
for princes, as Cains among the Romans, John in France, England, and
Scotland, and Henry in France.

We have now and then an anecdote that is worth reading and worth
preserving. Thus, under Machiavellist: "I have heard that a philosopher,
being asked by a great prince about a refutation of Machiavellism, which
the latter had just published, replied, 'Sire, I fancy that the first
lesson that Machiavelli would have given to his disciple would have been
to refute his work.'" Whether Voltaire ever did say this to the great
Frederick, is very questionable, but it would not have been ill said.
After the reader has been taken through a short course of Arabian
philosophy, he is enlivened by a selection of poetic sayings about human
life from the Rose-garden of Sadi, and the whole article winds up with
an eastern fable, of no particular relevancy, of three men finding a
treasure, and of one of them poisoning the food for which the other two
had sent him; on his return they suddenly fell on him and slew him, and
then ate the poisoned food, and so the treasure fell to none of

We have spoken in the previous section of the contempt expressed by
D'Alembert for mere literary antiquarianism--a very different thing, let
us remember, from scientific inquiry into the origin and classification
of institutions and social organs. Diderot's article on the Germans is
an excellent illustration of this wholesome predominance of the
scientific spirit over the superficialities of barren erudition. The
word "Allemand," says Diderot, "has a great many etymologies, but they
are so forced, that it is almost as well to know none of them, as to
know them all. As for the origin of this famous stock, all that has been
said on that matter, between Tacitus and Clovis, is simply a tissue of
guesses without foundation." Of course in this some persons will see a
shameful levity; others will regard it as showing very good sense, and a
right estimate of what is knowable and worth knowing, and what is
neither one nor the other. In the article on Celibacy we notice the same
temper. A few sentences are enough for the antiquarianism of the
subject, what the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans thought and ordained
about celibacy. The substance of the article is a reproduction of the
Abbé Saint Pierre's discussion of the advantages that would be gained
for France, with her declining population, if her forty thousand curés
were allowed to marry, and to bring into the world eighty thousand
children. We may believe that Diderot smiled as he transcribed the
Abbé's cunning suggestion that a dispensing power to relieve from the
obligation of celibacy should be recognised in the Pope, and that the
Roman court should receive a sum of money for every dispensation so

Although, however, Diderot despised mere bookishness, his article on
Libraries is one of the longest and most painstaking, furnishing a
tolerably complete list of the most famous collections, from the
beginning of books down to the latest additions to the King's Library in
the Rue Vivienne. In the course of this article he quotes with seeming
approval the quaint words in which old Richard of Bury, the author of
the _Philobiblon_ (1340), praised books as the best of masters, much as
the immortal defender of the poet Archias had praised them: "Hi sunt
magistri qui nos instruunt sine virgis et ferulis, sine cholera, sine
pecuniâ; si accedis non dormiunt; si inquiris non se abscondunt; non
obmurmurant si oberres; cachinnos nesciunt si ignores."

In literature proper, as in philosophy, Diderot loses no opportunity of
insisting on the need of being content with suspended judgment. For
instance, he blames historians of opinion for the readiness with which
they attribute notions found in one or two rabbis to the whole of the
Jews, or because two or three Fathers say something, boldly set this
down as the sentiments of a whole century, although perhaps we have
nothing else save these two or three Fathers left of the century, and
although we do not know whether their writings were applauded, or were
even widely known. "It were to be wished that people should speak less
affirmatively, especially on particular points and remote consequences,
and that they should only attribute them directly to those in whose
writings they are actually to be found. I confess that the history of
the sentiments of antiquity would not seem so complete, and that it
would be necessary to speak in terms of doubt much more often than is
common; but by acting otherwise we expose ourselves to the danger of
taking false and uncertain conjectures for ascertained and
unquestionable truths. The ordinary man of letters does not readily put
up with suspensive expressions, any more than common people do so." All
this is an odd digression to be found under the head of Hylopathianism,
but it must always remain wholesome doctrine.

We cannot wonder at Diderot's admiration for Montaigne and for Bayle,
who, with Hume, would make the great trinity of scepticism. "The work of
Montaigne," said Diderot, "is the touchstone of a good intelligence; you
may be sure that any one whom the reading of Montaigne displeases has
some vice either of heart or understanding. As for Bayle, he has had few
equals in the art of reasoning, and perhaps no superior; and though he
piles doubt upon doubt, he always proceeds with order; an article of his
is a living polypus, which divides itself into a number of polypuses,
all living, engendered one from the other."[177] Yet Diderot had a
feeling of the necessity of advancing beyond the attitude of Bayle and
Montaigne. Intellectual suspense and doubt was made difficult to him by
his vehement and positive demand for emotional certainties.

Diderot is always ready to fling away his proper subject in a burst of
moralising. The article on _Man_, as a branch of natural history,
contains a correct if a rather superficial account of that curious
animal; at length the writer comes to a table showing the probable
duration of life at certain ages. "You will observe," he says, "1st,
that the age of seven is that at which you may hope a longer life; 2d,
that at twelve or thirteen you have lived a quarter of your life; at
twenty-eight or twenty-nine you have lived half; at fifty more than
three-quarters." And then he suddenly winds up the whole performance by
the exclamation: "O ye who have laboured up to fifty, who are in the
enjoyment of comfort, and who still have left to you health and
strength, what then are you waiting for before you take rest? How long
will you go on saying _To-morrow, to-morrow?_"

There are many casual brilliancies in the way of analogy and parallel,
many aptnesses of thought and phrase. The Stoics are called the
Jansenists of Paganism. "For a single blade of grass to grow, it is
necessary that the whole of nature should co-operate." "A man comes to
Pyrrhonism by one of two opposite ways; either because he does not know
enough, or because he knows too much; the latter is not the most common
way." And so forth.

If we turn to the group of articles dealing with theology, it is
difficult for us to know exactly where we are. Sometimes Diderot writes
of popular superstitions with the gravity proper to a dictionary of
mythology. Sometimes he sews on to the sober gray of his scepticism a
purple patch of theistic declamation.[178] The article on Jesus Christ
is obviously a mere piece of common form, and more than one passage in
his article on _Christianisme_ is undoubtedly insincere. When we come to
his more careful article, _Providence_, we find it impossible to extract
from it a body of coherent propositions of which we could confidently
say that they represented his own creed, or the creed that he desired
his readers to bear away in their minds.

It is hardly worth while to measure the more or the less of his
adherence to Christianity, or even to Deism, as inferred from the
Encyclopædia. We need only turn to his private letters to find that he
is in no degree nor kind an adherent, but the most hardy, contemptuous,
and thoroughgoing of opponents. At the risk of shocking devout persons,
I am bound to reproduce a passage from one of his letters, in which
there can be no doubt that we have Diderot's true mind, as distinguished
from what it was convenient to print. "The Christian religion," he says,
"is to my mind the most absurd and atrocious in its dogmas; the most
unintelligible, the most metaphysical, the most intertwisted and
obscure, and consequently the most subject to divisions, sects, schisms,
heresies; the most mischievous for the public tranquillity, the most
dangerous to sovereigns by its hierarchic order, its persecutions, its
discipline; the most flat, the most dreary, the most Gothic, and the
most gloomy in its ceremonies; the most puerile and unsociable in its
morality, considered not in what is common to it with universal
morality, but in what is peculiarly its own, and constitutes it
evangelical, apostolical, and Christian morality, which is the most
intolerant of all. Lutheranism, freed from some absurdities, is
preferable to Catholicism; Protestantism to Lutheranism, Socinianism to
Protestantism, Deism, with temples and ceremonies, to Socinianism. Since
it is necessary that man, being superstitious by nature, should have a
fetish, the simplest and most harmless will be the best fetish."[179] We
need not discuss nor extend the quotation; enough has been said to
relieve us from the duty of analysing or criticising articles in which
Christianity is treated with all the formal respect that the secular
authority insisted upon.

This formal respect is not incompatible with many veiled and secret
sarcasms, which were as well understood as they were sharply enjoyed by
those who read between the lines. It is not surprising that these
sarcasms were constantly unjust and shallow. Even those of us who
repudiate theology and all its works for ourselves, may feel a shock at
the coarseness and impurity of innuendo which now and then disfigures
Diderot's treatment of theological as of some other subjects. For this
the attitude of the Church itself was much to blame; coarse, virulent,
unspiritual as it was in France in those days. Voltaire, Diderot,
Holbach, would have written in a very different spirit, even while
maintaining and publishing the same attacks on theological opinion, if
the Church of France had possessed such a school of teachers as the
Church of England found in the Latitudinarians in the seventeenth
century; or such as she finds now in the nineteenth century in those who
have imported, partly from the poetry of Wordsworth, partly from the
historic references of the Oxford Tracts, an equity, a breadth, an
elevation, a pensive grace, that effectually forbid the use of those
more brutal weapons of controversy which were the only weapons possible
in France a century ago.

We have already said so much of the great and important group of
articles on arts and trades, that it is unnecessary to add anything
further as to Diderot's particular share in them. He visited all the
workshops in Paris; he sent for information and specifications to the
most important seats of manufacture in the kingdom; he sometimes
summoned workmen from the provinces to describe to him the paper works
of Montargis, and the silk works and velvet works of Lyons.[180] Much of
Diderot's work, even on great practical subjects, was, no doubt, the
reproduction of mere book-knowledge acquired at second-hand. Take, for
instance, Agriculture, which was undoubtedly the most important of all
subjects for France at that date, as indeed at every other date. There
are a dozen pages of practical precepts, for which Diderot was probably
indebted to one of the farmers at Grandval. After this, he fills up the
article with about twenty pages in which he gives an account of the new
system of husbandry, which our English Jethro Tull described to an
unbelieving public between 1731 and 1751. Tull's volume was translated
into French by Duhamel, with notes and the record of experiments of his
own; from this volume Diderot drew the pith of his article. Diderot's
only merit in the matter--and it is hardly an inconsiderable one in a
world of routine--is that he should have been at the pains to seek the
newest lights, and above all that he should have urged the value of
fresh experiments in agriculture. Tull was not the safest authority in
the world, but it is to be remembered that the shrewd-witted Cobbett
thought his ideas on husbandry worth reproducing, seventy years after
Diderot had thought them worth compiling into an article.

It was not merely in the details of the practical arts that Diderot
wrote from material acquired at second-hand. The article on the
Zend-Avesta is taken from the Annual Register for 1762. The long series
of articles on the history of philosophy is in effect a reproduction of
what he found in Bayle, in Deslandes, and in Brucker. There are one or
two considerable exceptions. Perhaps the most important is under the
heading of Spinosa, to which we shall return presently. The article on
_Hobbisme_ contains an analysis, evidently made by the writer's own
hand, of the bulk of Hobbes's propositions; it is scarcely, however,
illuminated by a word of criticism. If we turn to the article on
_Société_, it is true, we find Hobbes's view of the relations between
the civil and temporal powers tolerably effectively combated, but even
here Diderot hardly does more than arm himself with the weapons of

Of course, he honestly refers his readers to these sources of wider
information.[181] All that we can say of the articles on the history of
philosophy is that the series is very complete; that Diderot used his
matter with intelligence and the spirit of criticism, and that he often
throws in luminous remarks and far-reaching suggestions of his own. This
was all that the purpose of his book required. To imitate the laborious
literary search of Bayle or of Brucker, and to attempt to compile an
independent history of philosophy, would have been to sacrifice the
Encyclopædia as a whole, to the superfluous perfection of a minor part.
There is only one imperative condition in such a case, namely, that the
writer should pass the accepted material through his own mind before
reproducing it. With this condition it was impossible for a man of
Diderot's indefatigable energy of spirit, not as a rule to comply.

But this rule too had exceptions. There were cases in which he
reproduced, as any mere bookmaker might have done, the thought of his
authority, without an attempt to make it his own. Of the confusion and
inequalities in which Diderot was landed by this method of mingling the
thoughts of other people with his own, there is a curious example in the
two articles on Philosopher and Philosophy. In the first we have an
essentially social and practical description of what the philosopher
should be; in the second we have a definition of philosophy, which takes
us into the regions most remote from what is social and practical. We
soar to the airiest heights of verbal analysis and pure formalism.
Nothing can be better, so far as it goes, than the picture of the
philosopher. Diderot begins by contrasting him with the crowd of people,
and clever people, who insist on passing judgment all day long. "They
ignore the scope and limits of the human mind; they think it capable of
knowing everything; hence they think it a disgrace not to pronounce
judgment, and imagine that intelligence consists in that and nothing
else. The philosopher believes that it consists in judging rightly. He
is better pleased with himself when he has suspended his faculty of
coming to a conclusion, than if he had come to a conclusion without the
proper grounds. He prefers to brilliancy the pains of rightly
distinguishing his ideas, of finding their true extent and exact
connection. He is never so attached to a system as not to feel all the
force of the objections to it. Most men are so strongly given over to
their opinions that they do not take any trouble to make out those of
others. The philosopher, on the other hand, understands what he rejects,
with the same breadth and the same accuracy as he understands what he
adopts." Then Diderot turns characteristically from the intellectual to
the social side. "Our philosopher does not count himself an exile in the
world; he does not suppose himself in an enemy's country; he would fain
find pleasure with others, and to find it he must give it; he is a
worthy man who wishes to please and to make himself useful. The ordinary
philosophers who meditate too much, or rather who meditate to wrong
purpose, are as surly and arrogant to all the world as great people are
to those whom they do not think their equals; they flee men, and men
avoid them. But our philosopher who knows how to divide himself between
retreat and the commerce of men is full of humanity. _Civil society is,
so to say, a divinity for him on the earth_; he honours it by his
probity, by an exact attention to his duties, and by a sincere desire
not to be a useless or an embarrassing member of it. The sage has the
leaven of order and rule; he is full of the ideas connected with the
good of civil society. What experience shows us every day is that the
more reason and light people have, the better fitted they are and the
more to be relied on for the common intercourse of life."[182]

The transition is startling from this conception of

Philosopher as a very high kind of man of the world, to the definition
of Philosophy as "the science of possibles quâ possibles." Diderot's own
reflection comes back to us, _Combien cette maudite métaphysique fait
des fous!_[183] We are abruptly plunged from a Baconian into a
Leibnitzian atmosphere. We should naturally have expected some such
account of Philosophy as that it begins with a limitation of the
questions to which men can hope for an answer, and ends in an ordered
arrangement of the principles of knowledge, with ultimate reference to
the conditions of morals and the structure of civil societies. We should
naturally have expected to find, what indeed we do find, that the
characteristic of the philosopher is to "admit nothing without proof,
never to acquiesce in illusory notions; to draw rigorously the dividing
lines of the certain, the probable, the doubtful; above all things never
to pay himself with mere words." But then these wholesome prescriptions
come in an article whose definitions and distribution of philosophy are
simply a reproduction from Christian Wolff, and the methods and dialect
of Wolff are as essentially alien from the positive spirit of the
Encyclopædia as they were from the mystic spirit of Jacobi.

Wolff's place in the philosophical succession of German speculation
(1679-1754) is between Leibnitz and Kant, and until Kant came his
system was dominant in the country of metaphysics.[184] It is from
Wolff that Diderot borrows and throws unassimilated into the pages of
the Encyclopædia propositions so fundamentally incongruous as this,
that "among all possibles there must of necessity be a Being subsisting
by himself; otherwise there would be possible things, of the
possibility of which no account could be given, an assertion that could
never be made." It is a curious thing, and it illustrates again the
strangely miscellaneous quality of Diderot's compilation, that the very
article which begins by this incorporation of the author of a
philosophical system expounded in a score of quartos, ends by a
vigorous denunciation of the introduction of the systematic spirit into

I shall venture to quote a hardy passage from another article
(_Pyrrhonienne_) which some will think a measure of Diderot's
philosophical incompetency, and others will think a measure of his good
sense. "We will conclude," he says, "for our part that as all in nature
is bound together, there is nothing, properly speaking, of which man has
perfect, absolute, and complete knowledge, because for that he would
need knowledge of all. Now as all is bound together, it inevitably
happens that, from discussion to discussion, he must come to something
unknown: then in starting again from this unknown point, we shall be
justified in pleading against him the ignorance or the obscurity or the
uncertainty of the point preceding, and of that preceding this, and so
forth, up to the most evident principle. So we must admit a sort of
sobriety in the use of reason. When step by step I have brought a man to
some evident proposition, I shall cease to dispute. I will listen no
longer to a man who goes on to deny the existence of bodies, the rules
of logic, the testimony of the senses, the difference between good and
evil, true and false, etc. etc. I will turn my back on everybody who
tries to lead me away from a simple question, to embark me in discussion
as to the nature of matter, of the understanding of thought, and other
subjects shoreless and bottomless."[185] Whatever else may be said of
this, we have to recognise that it is exactly characteristic of the
author. But then why have written on metaphysics at all?

We have mentioned the article on Spinosa. It is characteristic both of
the good and the bad sides of Diderot's work. Half of it is merely a
reproduction of Bayle's criticisms on Spinosa and his system. The other
half consists of original objections propounded by Diderot with marked
vigour of thrust against Spinosa, but there is no evidence that he had
gone deeper into Spinosa than the first book of the Ethics. There is no
certain sign that he had read anything else, or that he had more of that
before him than the extracts that were furnished by Bayle. Such
treatment of a serious subject hardly conforms to the modern
requirements of the literary conscience, for in truth the literary
conscience has now turned specialist and shrinks from the encyclopædic.
Diderot's objections are, as we have said, pushed with marked energy of
speech. "However short away," he says, "you penetrate into the thick
darkness in which Spinosa has wrapped himself up, you discover a
succession of abysses into which this audacious reasoner has
precipitated himself, of propositions either evidently false or
evidently doubtful, of arbitrary principles, substituted for natural
principles and sensible truths; an abuse of terms taken for the most
part in a wrong sense, a mass of deceptive equivocations, a cloud of
palpable contradictions." The system is monstrous, it is absurd and
ridiculous. It is Spinosa's plausible method that has deceived people;
they supposed that one who employed geometry, and proceeded by way of
axioms and definitions, must be on the track of truth. They did not see
that these axioms were nothing better than very vague and very uncertain
propositions; that the definitions were inexact, defective, and bizarre.

We have no space to follow the reasoning by which Diderot supports this
scornful estimate of the famous thinker, of whom it can never be settled
whether he be pantheist, atheist, akosmist, or God-intoxicated man. He
returns to the charge again and again, as if he felt a certain secret
uneasiness lest for scorn so loudly expressed he had not brought forward
adequate justification. And the reader feels that Diderot has scarcely
hit the true line of cleavage that would have enabled him--from his own
point of view--to shatter the Spinosist system. He tries various bouts
of logic with Spinosa in connection with detached propositions. Thus he
deals with Spinosa's third proposition, that, _in the case of things
that have nothing in common with one another, one cannot be the cause of
the other_. This proposition, Diderot contends, is false in all moral
and occasional causes. The sound of the name of God has nothing in
common with the idea of the Creator which that name produces in my mind.
A misfortune that overtakes my friend has nothing in common with the
grief that I feel in consequence. When I move my arm by an act of will,
the movement has nothing in common in its nature with the act of my
will; they are very different. I am not a triangle, yet I form the idea
of one and I examine its properties. So with the fifth proposition, that
_there cannot be in the universe two or more substances of the same
nature or the same attributes_. If Spinosa is only talking of the
essence of things or of their definition, what he says is naught; for it
can only mean that there cannot be in the universe two different
essences having the same essence. Who doubts it? But if Spinosa means
that there cannot be an essence which is found in various single
objects, in the same way as the essence of triangle is found in the
triangle A and the triangle B, then he says what is manifestly untrue.
It is not, however, until the last two or three pages that Diderot sets
forth his dissent in its widest form.

"To refute Spinosa," he says at last, "all that is necessary is to stop
him at the first step, without taking the trouble to follow him into a
mass of consequences; all that we need do is to substitute for the
obscure principle which he makes the base of his system, the following:
namely, that _there are several substances_--a principle that in its own
way is clear to the last degree. And, in fact, what proposition can be
clearer, more striking, more close to the understanding and
consciousness of man? I here seek no other judge than the most just
impression of the common sense that is spread among the human race....
Now, since common sense revolts against each of Spinosa's propositions,
no less than against the first, of which they are the pretended proofs,
instead of stopping to reason on each of these proofs where common sense
is lost, we should be right to say to him:--Your principle is contrary
to common sense; from a principle in which common sense is lost, nothing
can issue in which common sense is to be found again."

The passage sounds unpleasantly like an appeal to the crowd in a matter
of science, which is as the sin against the Holy Ghost in these high
concerns. What Diderot meant, probably, was to charge Spinosa with
inventing a conception of substance which has no relation to objective
experience; and further with giving fantastic answers to questions that
were in themselves never worth asking, because the answers must always
involve a violent wrench of the terms of experience into the sphere
transcending experience, and because, moreover, they can never be
verified. Whether he meant this or something else, and whether he would
have been right or wrong in such an intention, we may admit that it
would have been more satisfactory if in dealing with such a master-type
of the metaphysical method as Spinosa, so acute a positive critic as
Diderot had taken more pains to give to his objections the utmost
breadth of which they were capable.[186]

The article on Leibnitz has less original matter in it than that on
Spinosa. The various speculations of that great and energetic intellect
in metaphysic, logic, natural theology, natural law, are merely drawn
out in a long table of succinct propositions, while the account of the
life and character of Leibnitz is simply taken from the excellent
_éloge_ which had been published upon him by Fontenelle in 1716.
Fontenelle's narrative is reproduced in a generous spirit of admiration
and respect for a genius that was like Diderot's own in encyclopædic
variety of interest, while it was so far superior to Diderot's in
concentration, in subtlety, in precision, in power of construction. If
there could exist over our heads, says Diderot, a species of beings who
could observe our works as we watch those of creatures at our feet, with
what surprise would such beings have seen those four marvellous insects,
Bayle, Descartes, Leibnitz, and Newton. And he then draws up a little
calendar of the famous men, out of whom we must choose the name to be
placed at the very head of the human race. The list contains, besides
Julian the Apostate--who was inserted, we may presume, merely by way of
playful insult to the ecclesiastical enemy--Socrates, Marcus Aurelius,
Trajan, Bacon, and the four great names that have just been cited.
Germany derives as much honour from Leibnitz alone, he concludes with
unconsidered enthusiasm, as Greece from Plato, Aristotle, and
Archimedes, all put together. As we have said, however, there is no
criticism, nor any other sign that Diderot had done more than survey the
façade of the great Leibnitzian structure admiringly from without.

The article on Liberty would be extremely remarkable, appearing where it
does, and coming from a thinker of Diderot's general capacity, if only
we could be sure that Diderot was sincere. As it happens, there is good
reason to suppose that he was wholly insincere. It is quite as shallow,
from the point of view of philosophy, as his article on the Jews or on
the Bible is from the point of view of erudition. One reason for this
might not be far to seek. We have repeatedly observed how paramount the
social aim and the social test are in Diderot's mind over all other
considerations. But this reference of all subjects of discussion to the
good of society, and this measurement of conclusions by their presumed
effect on society, is a method that has its own dangers. The aversion of
ecclesiastics to unfettered discussion, lest it should damage
institutions and beliefs deemed useful to mankind, is the great leading
example of this peril. Diderot, it might be said by those who should
contend that he wrote what he thought, did not escape exactly the same
predicament, as soon as ever he forgot that of all the things that are
good for society, Truth is the best. Now, who will believe that it is
Diderot, the persecuted editor of the Encyclopædia, and the author of
the manly article on Intolerance, who introduces such a passage as the
following into the discussion of the everlasting controversy of Free
Will and Necessity: "Take away Liberty, and you leave no more vice nor
virtue nor merit in the world; rewards are ridiculous, and punishments
unjust. The ruin of Liberty overthrows all order and all police,
confounds vice and virtue, authorises every monstrous infamy,
extinguishes the last spark of shame and remorse, degrades and
disfigures beyond recovery the whole human race. _A doctrine of such
enormity as this ought not to be examined in the schools; it ought to be
punished by the magistrates._"[187] Of course, this was exactly what the
Jesuits said about a belief in God, about revelation, and about the
institutions of the church. To take away these, they said, is to throw
down the bulwarks of order, and an attempt to take them away, as by
encyclopædists or others, ought to be punished by the magistrates.
Diderot had for the moment clearly lost himself.

We need hardly be surprised if an article conceived in this spirit
contains no serious contribution to the difficult question with which
it deals. Diderot had persuaded himself that, without Free Will, all
those emotional moralities in the way of sympathy and benevolence and
justice which he adored would be lowered to the level of mere mechanism.
"If men are not free in what they do of good and evil, then," he cries,
in what is surely a paroxysm of unreason, "good is no longer good, and
evil no longer evil." As if the outward quality and effects of good and
evil were not independent of the mental operations which precede human
action. Murder would not cease to be an evil simply because it had been
proved that the murderer's will to do a bad deed was the result of
antecedents. Acts have marks and consequences of their own, good or bad,
whatever may be the state of mind of those who do them. But Diderot does
not seem to divine the true issue; he writes as if Necessarians or
Determinists denied the existence of volitions, and as if the question
were whether volitions do exist. Nobody denies that they exist; the real
question is of the conditions under which they exist. Are they
determined by antecedents, or are they self-determined, spontaneous, and
unconnected? Is Will independent of cause?

Diderot's argumentation is, in fact, merely a protest that man is
conscious of a Will. And just as in other parts of his article Diderot
by Liberty means only the existence of Will, so by Liberty he means only
the healthy condition of the soul, and not its independence of
causation. We need not waste words on so dire a confusion, nor on the
theory that Will is sometimes dependent on cerebral antecedents and
sometimes not. The curious thing is that the writer should not have
perceived that he was himself in this preposterous theory propounding
the very principle which he denounced as destructive to virtue, ruinous
to society, and worthy of punishment by the government. For it seems
that, after all, the Will of those whose "dispositions are not moderate"
is not free; and we may surely say that those whose dispositions are
least moderate, are exactly the most violent malefactors against the
common weal. One more passage is worth quoting to show how little the
writer had seized the true meaning of the debate. "According to you," he
says to Bayle, "it is not clear that it is at the pure choice of my will
to move my arm or not to move it: if that be so, it is then necessarily
determined that within a quarter of an hour from now I shall lift my
hand three times together, or that I shall not. Now, if you seriously
pretend that I am not free, you cannot refuse an offer that I make you;
I will wager a thousand pistoles to one that I will do, in the matter of
moving my hand, exactly the opposite to what you back; and you may take
your choice. If you do think the wager fair, it can only be because of
your necessary and invincible judgment that I am free." As if the will
to move or not to move the arm would be uncaused and unaffected by
antecedents, when you have just provided so strong an antecedent as the
desire to save a thousand pistoles. It was, perhaps, well enough for
Voltaire to content himself with vague poetical material for his
poetical discourse on Liberty, but from Diderot, whether as editor or as
writer, something better might have been expected than a clumsy
reproduction of the reasoning by which men like Turretini had turned
philosophy into the corrupted handmaid of theology.

The most extraordinary thing about this extraordinary article still
remains to be told. It was written, we may suppose, between 1757 and
1762, or about that time. In June, 1756, Diderot wrote to a certain
Landois, a fellow-worker on the Encyclopædia, a letter containing the
most emphatic possible repudiation of the whole doctrine of Liberty.
"Liberty is a word void of sense; there are not and there never can have
been free beings; we are only what fits in with the general order, with
organisation, with education, and with the chain of events. We can no
more conceive a being acting without a motive than we can conceive one
of the arms of a balance acting without a weight; and the motive is
always exterior and foreign to us, attached either by nature or by some
cause or other that is not ourselves. _There is only one sort of causes,
properly speaking, and those are, physical causes._"[188] And so forth
in the vein of hard and remorseless necessarianism, which we shall find
presently in the pages of the System of Nature.[189]

There is only one explanation of this flagrant contradiction. Diderot
must have written on Liberty just as he wrote on Jesus Christ or the
Bible. He cannot have said what he thought, but only what the persons in
authority required him to pretend to think. We may he sure that a letter
to an intimate would be more likely to contain his real opinion than an
article published in the Encyclopædia. That such mystifications are
odious, are shameful, are almost too degrading a price to pay for the
gains of such a work, we may all readily enough admit. All that we can
do is to note so flagrant a case, as a striking example of the common
artifices of the time. One other point we may note. The fervour and
dexterity with which Diderot made what he knew to be the worse appear
the better cause, make a still more striking example of his astonishing
dramatic power of throwing himself, as dialectician, casuist, sophist,
into a false and illusive part.

Turning from the philosophical to the political or social group of
articles, we find little to add to what has been said in the previous
section. One of the most excellent essays in this group is that on
Luxury. Diderot opens ingeniously with a list of the propositions that
state the supposed evils of luxury, and under each proposition he places
the most striking case that he can find in history of its falseness. He
goes through the same process with the propositions asserting the gains
of luxury to society. Having thus effectually disposed of any wholesale
way of dealing with the subject, he proceeds to make a number of
observations on the gains and drawbacks of luxury; these are full of
sense and freedom from commonplace. Such articles as _Pouvoir,
Souverain, Autorité_, do little more than tell over again the old
unhistoric story about a society surrendering a portion of its sovereign
power to some individual or dynasty to hold in trust. It is worth
remarking how little democratic were Diderot and his school in any
Jacobinical, or anarchic, or even more respectable modern sense. There
is in Diderot's contributions many a firm and manly plea for the
self-respect of the common people, but not more than once or twice is
there a syllable of the disorder which smoulders under the pages of
Rousseau. Thus: "When the dwellers among the fields are well treated,
the number of proprietors insensibly grows greater, the extreme distance
and the vile dependence of poor on rich grow less; hence the people have
courage, force of soul, and strength of body; they love their country,
they respect the magistrates, they are attached to a prince, to an
order, and to laws to which they owe their peace and well-being. And you
will no longer see the son of the honourable tiller of the soil so ready
to quit the noble calling of his forefathers, nor so ready to go and
sully himself with the liveries and with the contempt of the man of

No one can find fault with democratic sentiment of this kind, nor with
the generous commonplaces of the moralist, about virtue being the only
claim to honour, and vice the only true source of shame and inferiority.
But neither Diderot nor Voltaire ever allowed himself to flatter the
crowd for qualities which the crowd can scarcely possess. The little
article on Multitude seems merely inserted for the sake of buffeting
unwarranted pretensions. "Distrust the judgment of the multitude in all
matters of reasoning and philosophy; there its voice is the voice of
malice, folly, inhumanity, irrationality, and prejudice. Distrust it
again in things that suppose much knowledge or a fine taste. The
multitude is ignorant and dulled. Distrust it in morality; it is not
capable of strong and generous actions; it rather wonders at such
actions than approves them; heroism is almost madness in its eyes.
Distrust it in the things of sentiment; is delicacy of sentiment so
common a thing that you can accord it to the multitude? In what then is
the multitude right? In everything, but only at the end of a very long
time, because then it has become an echo, repeating the judgment of a
small number of sensible men who shape the judgment of posterity for it
beforehand. If you have on your side the testimony of your conscience,
and against you that of the multitude, take comfort and be assured that
time does justice." It is far from being a universal gift among men of
letters and others to unite this fastidious estimation of the incapacity
of the crowd in the higher provinces of the intellectual judgment, with
a fervid desire that the life of the crowd should be made worthy of
self-respecting men.

The same hand that wrote the defiance of the populace that has just been
quoted, wrote also this short article on Misery: "There are few souls so
firm that misery does not in the long run cast them down and degrade
them. The poor common people are incredibly stupid. I know not what
false dazzling prestige closes their eyes to their present wretchedness,
and to the still deeper wretchedness that awaits the years of old age.
Misery is the mother of great crimes. It is the sovereigns who make the
miserable, and it is they who shall answer in this world and the other
for the crimes that misery has committed."

So far as the mechanism of government is concerned, Diderot writes much
as Montesquieu had done. Under the head of _Représentants_ he proclaims
the advantages, not exactly of government by a representative assembly,
but of assisting and advising the royal government by means of such an
assembly. There is no thought of universal suffrage. "_It is property
that makes the citizen_; every man who has possessions in the state is
interested in the state, and whatever be the rank that particular
conventions may assign to him, it is always as a proprietor; it is by
reason of his possessions that he ought to speak, and that he acquires
the right of having himself represented." Yet this very definite
statement does not save him from the standing difficulty of a democratic
philosophy of politics. Nor can it be reconciled in point of logic with
other propositions to which Diderot commits himself in the same article.
For instance, he says that "no order of citizens is capable of
stipulating for all; if one order had the right, it would very soon
come to stipulate only for itself; each class ought to be represented by
men who know its condition and its needs; _these needs are only well
known to those who actually feel them_." But then, in that case, the
poorest classes are those who have most need of direct representation;
they are the most numerous, their needs are sharpest, they are the
classes to which war, consumption of national capital and way of
expending national income, equal laws, judicial administration, and the
other concerns of a legislative assembly, come most close. The problem
is to reconcile the sore interests of the multitude with the ignorance
and the temper imputed in Diderot's own description of them.

An interesting study might be made, if the limits of our subject
permitted such a digression, on the new political ideas which a
century's experience in England, France, Germany, the American Union,
has added to the publicist's stock. Diderot's article on the Legislator
is a curious mixture of views which political thinkers have left behind,
with views which the most enlightened statesmen have taken up. There is
much talk after the fashion of Jean Jacques Rousseau about the admirable
legislation of Lycurgus at Sparta, the philosophical government of the
great empire of China, and the fine spirit of the institutions of Peru.
We perceive that the same influences which made Rousseau's political
sentimentalism so popular also brought even strong heads like Diderot to
believe in the unbounded power of a government to mould men at its
will, and to impose institutions at discretion. The idea that it is the
main function of a government to make its people virtuous, is generally
as strong in Diderot as it was in Rousseau, and as it became in
Robespierre. He admires the emperors of China, because their edicts are
as the exhortation of a father to his children. All edicts, he says,
ought to instruct and to exhort as much as they command. Yet two years
after the Encyclopædia was finished (1774), when Turgot prefaced his
reforming edicts by elaborate and reasoned statements of the grounds for
them, it was found that his prefaces caused greater provocation than the
very laws that they introduced.

Apart from the common form of enthusiasm for the "sublime legislation"
of countries which the writer really knew nothing about, the article on
the Legislator has some points worth noticing. We have seen how Diderot
made the possession of property the true note of citizenship, and of a
claim to share in the government. But he did not pay property this
compliment for nothing. It is, he says, the business of the legislator
to do his best to make up to mankind for the loss of that equality which
was one of the comforts that men surrendered when they gave up the state
of nature. Hence the legislator ought to take care that no one shall
reach a position of extreme opulence otherwise than by an industry that
enriches the state. "He must take care that the charges of society shall
fall upon the rich, who enjoy the advantages of society." Even those who
agree with Diderot, and are ready to vote for a graduated income-tax,
will admit that he comes to his conclusion without knowing or reflecting
about either the serious arguments for it, or the serious objections
against it.

What is really interesting in this long article is its anticipation of
those ideas which in England we associate with the name of Cobden. "All
the men of all lands have become necessary to one another for the
exchange of the fruits of industry and the products of the soil.
Commerce is a new bond among men. Every nation has an interest in these
days in the preservation by every other nation of its wealth, its
industry, its banks, its luxury, its agriculture. The ruin of Leipsic,
of Lisbon, and of Lima has led to bankruptcies on all the exchanges of
Europe, and has affected the fortunes of many millions of persons."[191]
In the same spirit he foresees the decline of patriotism in its older
and narrower sense, and the predominance of the international over the
national sentiment. "All nations now have sufficiently just ideas of
their neighbours, and consequently they have less enthusiasm for their
country than in the old days of ignorance. There is little enthusiasm
where there is much light; enthusiasm is nearly always the emotion of a
soul that is more passionate than it is instructed. By comparing among
all nations laws with laws, talents with talents, and manners with
manners, nations will find so little reason to prefer themselves to
others, that if they preserve for their own country that love which is
the fruit of personal interest, at least they will lose that enthusiasm
which is the fruit of an exclusive self-esteem."

Yet Diderot had the perspicacity to discern the drawbacks to such a
revolution in the conditions of social climate. "Commerce, like
enlightenment, lessens ferocity, but also, just as enlightenment takes
away the enthusiasm of self-esteem, so perhaps commerce takes away the
enthusiasm of virtue. It gradually extinguishes the spirit of
magnanimous disinterestedness, and replaces it by that of hard justice.
By turning men's minds rather to use than beauty, to prudence rather
than to greatness, it may be that it injures the strength, the
generosity, the nobleness of manners."

All this, whether it comes to much or little, is at least more true than
Diderot's assurance that henceforth for any nation in Europe to make
conquests must be a moral impossibility. Napoleon Bonaparte was then a
child in arms. Whether his career was on the whole a fulfilment or a
contradiction of Diderot's proposition, may be disputed.

And so our sketch of the great book must at length end. Let us make one
concluding remark. Is it not surprising that a man of Diderot's
speculative boldness and power should have failed to rise from the
mechanical arrangement of thought and knowledge, up to some higher and
more commanding conception of the relation between himself in the
eighteenth century, or ourselves in the nineteenth, and all those great
systems of thought, method, and belief, which in various epochs and over
different spaces of the globe have given to men working answers to the
questions that their leading spirits were moved to put to themselves and
to the iron universe around them? We constantly feel how near Diderot is
to the point of view that would have brought light. We feel how very
nearly ready he was to see the mental experiences of the race in east
and west, not as superstition, degradation, grovelling error, but as
aspects of intellectual effort and aspiration richly worthy of human
interest and scientific consideration, and in their aim as well as in
their substance all of one piece with the newest science and the last
voices of religious or anti-religious development. Diderot was the one
member of the party of Philosophers who was capable of grasping such a
thought. If this guiding idea of the unity of the intellectual history
of man, and the organic integrity of thought, had happily come into
Diderot's mind, we should have had an Encyclopædia indeed; a survey and
representation of all the questions and answers of the world, such as
would in itself have suggested what questions are best worth putting,
and at the same time have furnished its own answers.

For this the moment was not yet. An urgent social task lay before France
and before Europe; it could not be postponed until the thinkers had
worked out a scheme of philosophic completeness. The thinkers did not
seriously make any effort after this completeness. The Encyclopædia was
the most serious attempt, and it did not wholly fail. As I replace in my
shelves this mountain of volumes, "dusky and huge, enlarging on the
sight," I have a presentiment that their pages will seldom again be
disturbed by me or by others. They served a great purpose a hundred
years ago. They are now a monumental ruin, clothed with all the profuse
associations of history. It is no Ozymandias of Egypt, king of kings,
whose wrecked shape of stone and sterile memories we contemplate. We
think rather of the gray and crumbling walls of an ancient stronghold
reared by the endeavour of stout hands and faithful, whence in its own
day and generation a band once went forth against barbarous hordes, to
strike a blow for humanity and truth.


SOCIAL LIFE (1759-1770).

Any one must be ignorant of the facts who supposes that the men of the
eighteenth century who did not believe in God, and were as little
continent as King David, were therefore no better than the reckless
vagabonds of Grub Street. Diderot, after he had once settled down to his
huge task, became a very orderly person. It is true that he had an
attachment to a lady who was not his wife. Marriage was in those days,
among the courtiers and the encyclopædic circle, too habitually regarded
as merely an official relation. Provided that there was no official
desertion, and no scandal, the world had nothing to say. Diderot was no
worse than his neighbours, though we may well be sorry that a man of his
generous sympathies and fine impulse was no better than his neighbours.
Mademoiselle Voland, after proper deduction made for the manners of the
time, was of a respectable and sentimental type. Her family were of good
position; she lived with her mother and sisters, and Diderot was on good
terms with them all. We have a glimpse of the characteristics of the
three ladies in a little dialogue between Diderot and some one whom he
met, and who happened to have made their acquaintance. "He informed me
that he had passed three months in the country where you are.--_Three
months_, said he, _is more than one needs to go mad about Madame Le
Gendre_.[192]--True, but then she is so reserved.--_I scarcely know any
woman with such an amount of self-respect_.--She is quite
right.--_Madame Voland is a woman of rare merit_.--Yes, and her eldest
daughter?--_She has the cleverness of a very devil_.--She is very
clever, no doubt; but what I especially like is her frankness. I would
lay a wager that she has never told a voluntary lie since she came to
years of discretion."[193] The relations between Diderot and Sophie
Voland were therefore not at all on the common footing of a low amour
with a coarse or frivolous woman of the world. All the proprieties of
appearance were scrupulously observed. Their mutual passion, though once
not wholly without its gallantries, soon took on that worthy and
decorous quality into which the ardour of valiant youth is reluctantly
softened by middle age, when we gravely comfort it with names of
philosophical compliment.

One of the most interesting of all the documentary memorials of the
century is to be found in the letters which Diderot wrote to
Mademoiselle Voland. No doubt has ever been thrown on the authenticity
of these letters, and they bear ample evidence of genuineness, so far as
the substance of them is concerned, in their characteristic style. They
were first published in 1830, from manuscripts sold to the bookseller
the year before by a certain French man of letters, Jeudy-Dugour by
name. He became a naturalised Russian, changed his name to Gouroff, and
died in the position of councillor of state and director of the
university of St. Petersburg. How he came by any papers of Diderot it is
impossible to guess. It is assumed that when Mademoiselle Voland died
her family gave his letters and other papers back to Diderot. These,
along with other documents, are supposed to have been given by Diderot
to Grimm. Thence they went to the Library of the Hermitage at St.
Petersburg. Whether Jeudy-Dugour sold copies or originals, and whether
he made the copies, if copies they were, from the Library, which was,
however, rigorously closed during the reign of Nicholas I., are literary
secrets which it is impossible to fathom. So far as Diderot is
concerned, some of the spirit of mystification that haunted literature
in the eighteenth century still hovers about it in the nineteenth. This
we shall presently find in a still more interesting monument of Diderot
than even his letters to Mademoiselle Voland.[194]

They are not a continuous series. It was only when either Diderot was
absent from Paris, or his correspondent was away at her mother's house
in the country, that letter-writing was necessary. Diderot appears to
have written to her openly and without disguise. The letters of
Mademoiselle Voland in reply were for obvious reasons not sent to
Diderot's house, but under cover to the office of Damilaville, so well
known to the reader of Voltaire's correspondence. Damilaville was a
commissioner in one of the revenue departments, and it is one among many
instances of the connivance between authority and its foes, that most of
the letters and packets of Voltaire, Diderot, and the rest of the group,
should have been taken in, sent out, guarded, and franked by the head of
a government office. The trouble that Damilaville willingly took in
order to serve his friends is another example of what we have already
remarked as the singular amiability and affectionate solicitude of those
times. "Think of Damilaville's attention," says Diderot on one occasion:
"to-day is Sunday, and he was obliged to leave his office. He was sure
that I should come this evening, for I never fail when I hope for a
letter from you. He left the key with two candles on a table, and
between the two candles your little letter, and a pleasant note of his
own." And by the light of the candles Diderot at once wrote a long

We need not wonder if much is said in these letters of tardy couriers,
missing answers, intolerable absences, dreary partings, delicious
anticipations. All these are the old eternal talk of men and women, ever
since the world began; without them we should hardly know that we are
reading the words of man to woman. They are in our present case only
the setting of a curiously frank and open picture of a man's life.

It is held by some that one of the best means of giving the sense of a
little fixity to lives that are but as the evanescent fabric of a dream
and the shadow of smoke, is to secure stability of topographical centre
by abiding in the same house. Diderot is one of the few who complied
with this condition. For thirty years he occupied the fourth and fifth
floors of a house which was still standing not long ago, at the corner
of the Rue Saint Benoit by the Rue Taranne, in that Paris which our
tourists leave unexplored, but which is nevertheless the true Paris of
the eighteenth century. Of the equipment of his room we have a charming
picture by the hand of its occupant. It occurs in his playful Regrets on
My Old Dressing-gown, so rich in happy and delightful touches.

"What induced me to part with it? It was made for me; I was made for it.
It moulded itself to all the turns and outlines of my body without
fretting me. I was picturesque and beautiful; its successor, so stiff,
so heavy, makes a mere mannikin of me. There was no want to which, its
complaisance did not lend itself, for indigence is ever obsequious. Was
a book covered with dust, one of the lappets offered itself to wipe the
dust away. Did the thick ink refuse to flow from the pen, it offered a
fold. You saw traced in the long black lines upon it how many a service
it had rendered me. Those long lines announced the man of letters, the
writer, the workman. And now I have all the mien of a rich idler; you
know not who I may be. I was the absolute master of my old robe; I am
the slave of my new one. The dragon that guarded the golden fleece was
not more restless than I. Care wraps me about.

"The old man who has delivered himself up bound hand and foot to the
caprices of a young giddypate, says from morning to night: Ah, where is
my old, my kind housekeeper? What demon possessed me the day that I
dismissed her for this creature? Then he sighs, he weeps. I do not weep
nor sigh; but at every moment I say: Cursed be the man who invented the
art of making common stuff precious by dyeing it scarlet! Cursed be the
costly robe that I stand in awe of! Where is my old, my humble, my
obliging piece of homespun?

"That is not all, my friend. Hearken to the ravages of luxury--of a
luxury that must needs be consistent with itself. My old gown was at one
with the things about me. A straw-bottomed chair, a wooden table, a deal
shelf that held a few books, and three or four engravings, dimmed by
smoke, without a frame, nailed at the four corners to the wall. Among
the engravings three or four casts in plaster were hung up; they formed,
with my old dressing-gown, the most harmonious indigence. All has become
discord. No more _ensemble_, no more unity, no more beauty.

"The woman who comes into the house of a widower, the minister who steps
into the place of a statesman in disgrace, the molinist bishop who gets
hold of the diocese of a jansenist bishop--none of these people cause
more trouble than the intruding scarlet has caused to me.

"I can bear without disgust the sight of a peasant-woman. The bit of
coarse canvas that covers her head, the hair falling about her cheeks,
the rags that only half cover her, the poor short skirt that goes no
more than half-way down her legs, the naked feet covered with mud--all
these things do not wound me; 'tis the image of a condition that I
respect, 'tis the sign and summary of a state that is inevitable, that
is woful, and that I pity with all my heart. But my gorge rises, and in
spite of the scented air that follows her, I turn my eyes from the
courtesan, whose fine lace head-gear and torn cuffs, white stockings and
worn-out shoes, show me the misery of the day in company with the
opulence of last night. Such would my house have been, if the imperious
scarlet had not forced all into harmony with itself. I had two
engravings that were not without merit, Poussin's Manna in the
Wilderness, and the same painter's Esther before Ahasuerus; the one is
driven out in shame by some old man of Rubens's, the Fall of the Manna
is scattered to the winds by a Storm of Vernet's. The old straw chair is
banished to the ante-room by a luxurious thing of morocco. Homer,
Virgil, Horace, Cicero, have been taken from their shelf and shut up in
a case of grand marqueterie work, an asylum worthier of them than of me.
The wooden table still held its ground, protected by a vast pile of
pamphlets and papers heaped pell-mell upon it; they seemed as if they
would long protect it from its doom. Yet one day that too was mastered
by fate, and in spite of my idleness pamphlets and papers went to
arrange themselves in the shelves of a costly bureau.... It was thus that
the edifying retreat of the philosopher became transformed into the
scandalous cabinet of the farmer-general. Thus I too am insulting the
national misery.

"Of my early mediocrity there remained only a list carpet. The shabby
carpet hardly matches with my luxury. I feel it. But I have sworn and I
swear that I will keep this carpet, as the peasant, who was raised from
the hut to the palace of his sovereign, still kept his wooden shoes.
When in a morning, clad in the sumptuous scarlet, I enter my room, if I
lower my eyes I perceive my old list carpet; it recalls to me my early
state, and rising pride stands checked. No, my friend, I am not
corrupted. My door is open as ever to want; it finds me affable as ever;
I listen to its tale, I counsel, I pity, I succour it." ...

Yet the interior of Socrates-Diderot was as little blessed by domestic
sympathy as the interior of the older and greater Socrates. Of course
Diderot was far enough from being faultless. His wife is described by
Rousseau as a shrew and a scold. It is too plain that she was so; sullen
to her husband, impatient with her children, and exacting and
unreasonable with her servants.[196] We cannot pretend accurately to
divide the blame. The companionship was very dreary, and the picture
grievous and most afflicting to our thoughts. Diderot returns in the
evening from Holbach's, throws his carpet-bag in at the door, flies off
to seek a letter from Mademoiselle Voland, writes one to her, gets back
to his house at midnight, finds his daughter ill, puts cheerful and
cordial questions to his wife, she replies with a tartness that drives
him back into silence.[197] Another time the scene is violent. A torrent
of injustice and unreasonableness flows over him for two long hours, and
he wonders what the woman will profit, after she has made him burst a
blood-vessel; he groans in anguish, "Ah, how hard life seems to me to
bear! How many a time would I accept the end of it with joy!"[198] So
sharp are the goads in a divided house; so sorely, with ache and smart
and deep-welling tears, do men and women rend into shreds the fine web
of one another's lives. But the pity of it, O the pity of it!

There are many brighter intervals which make one willing to suppose
that if the wife had been a little more patient, more tolerant, more
cheerful, less severely addicted to her sterile superstition, there
might have been somewhat more happiness in the house. One misery of the
present social ideal of women is that, while it keeps them so
systematically ignorant, superstitious, and narrow, it leaves them
without humility. "Be content," said the great John Wesley to his
froward wife, "be content to be a private insignificant person, known
and loved by God and me. Of what importance is your character to
mankind? If you was buried just now, or if you had never lived, what
loss would it be to the cause of God?" This energetic remonstrance can
hardly be said to exhaust the matter. Still it puts a wholesome side of
the case which Madame Diderot missed, and which better persons are
likely to miss, so long as the exclusion of women, by common opinion or
by law, from an active participation in the settlement of great issues,
makes them indifferent to all interests outside domestic egoism, and
egoistic and personal religion. Brighter intervals shone in the
household. "I announced my departure," writes Diderot, "for next
Tuesday. At the first word I saw the faces both of mother and daughter
fall. The child had a compliment for my fête-day all ready, and it would
not do to let her waste the trouble of having learnt it. The mother had
projected a grand dinner for Sunday. Well, we arranged everything
perfectly. I made my journey, and came back to be harangued and
feasted. The poor child made her little speech in the most bewitching
way. In the middle there came some hard words, so she stopped and said
to me, 'My papa, 'tis because my two front teeth have come out'--as was
true. Then she went on. At the end, as she had a posy to give me, and it
could not be found, she stopped a second time to say to me--'Here's the
worst of the tale; my pinks have got lost.' Then she started off in
search of her flowers. We dined in great style. My wife had got all her
friends together. I was very gay, eating, drinking, and doing the
honours of my table to perfection. On rising from table I stayed among
them and played cards instead of going out. I saw them all off between
eleven and twelve: I was charming, and if you only knew with whom; what
physiognomies, what folk, what talk!"

Another time the child, whispering in his ear, asks why her mother bade
her not remind him that the morrow was the mother's fête-day. The
presence of the blithe all-hoping young, looking on with innocent
unconscious eyes at the veiled tragedy of love turned to bitter discord,
gives to such scenes their last touch of piteousness. Diderot, however,
observed the day, and presented a bouquet which was neither well or ill
received. At the birthday dinner the master of the house presided. "If
you had been behind the curtains, you would have said to yourself, how
can all this gossip and twaddle find a place in the same head with
certain ideas! And in truth I was charming, and played the fool to a

In the midst of distractions great and small, was an indomitable
industry. "I tell you," he wrote, "and I tell all men, when you are ill
at ease with yourself, instantly set about some good work. In busying
myself to soothe the trouble of another, I forget my own." He was
assiduous in teaching his daughter, though he complained that her mother
crushed out in a day what it had taken him a month to implant. The
booksellers found him the most cheerful and strenuous bondsman that ever
booksellers had. He would pass a whole month without a day's break,
working ten hours every day at the revision of proof-sheets. Sometimes
he remains a whole week without leaving his workroom. He wears out his
eyes over plates and diagrams, bristling with figures and letters, and
with no more refreshing thought in the midst of this sore toil than that
insult, persecution, torment, trickery, will be the fruit of it. He not
only spent whole days bent over his desk, until he had a feeling as of
burning flame within him; he also worked through the hours of the night.
On one of these occasions, worn out with fatigue and weariness, he fell
asleep with his head on his desk; the light fell down among his papers,
and he awoke to find half the books and papers on the desk burnt to
ashes. "I kept my own counsel about it," he writes, "because a single
hint of such an accident would have robbed my wife of sleep for the
rest of her life."[200]

His favourite form of holiday was a visit to Holbach's country house at
Grandval. Here he spent some six weeks or more nearly every autumn after
1759. The manner of life there was delightful to him. There was perfect
freedom, the mistress of the house neither rendering strict duties of
ceremony nor exacting them. Diderot used to rise at six or at eight, and
remain in his own room until one, reading, writing, meditating. Nobody
was more exquisitely sensible than Diderot to the charm of loitering
over books, "over those authors," as he said, "who ravish us from
ourselves, in whose hands nature has placed a fairy wand, with which
they no sooner touch us, than straightway we forget the evils of life,
the darkness lifts from our souls, and we are reconciled to
existence."[201] The musing suggestiveness of reading when we read only
for reading's sake, and not for reproduction nor direct use, was as
delightful to our laborious drudge as to others, but he could indulge
himself with little of this sweet idleness. It was in harder labour that
he passed most of his mornings. These hours of work achieved, he dressed
and went down among his friends. Then came the mid-day dinner, which was
sumptuous; host and guests both ate and drank more than was good for
their health. After a short siesta, towards four o'clock they took their
sticks and went forth to walk, among woods, over ploughed fields, up
hills, through quagmires, delighting in nature. As they went, they
talked of history, or politics, or chemistry, of literature, or physics,
or morality. At sundown they returned, to find lights and cards on the
tables, and they made parties of piquet, interrupted by supper. At
half-past ten the game ends, they chat until eleven, and in half an hour
more they are all fast asleep.[202] Each day was like the next;
industry, gaiety, bodily comfort, mental activity, diversifying the
hours. Grimm was often there, "the most French of all the Germans," and
Galiani, the most nimble-witted of men, inexhaustible in story,
inimitable in pantomimic narration, and yet with the keenest
intellectual penetration shining through all his Neapolitan prank and
buffoonery. Holbach cared most for the physical sciences. Marmontel
brought a vein of sentimentalism, and Helvétius a vein of cynical
formalism. Diderot played Socrates, Panurge, Pantophile; questioning,
instructing, combining; pouring out knowledge and suggestion, full of
interest in every subject, sympathetic with every vein, relishing alike
the newest philosophic hardihood, the last too merry mood of Holbach's
mother-in-law, the freshest piece of news brought by a traveller. It was
not at Grandval that he found life hard to bear, or would have accepted
its close with joy. And indeed if one could by miracle be transported
back into the sixth decade of that dead century for a single day,
perhaps one might choose that such a day should be passed among the
energetic and vivid men who walked of an afternoon among the fields and
woods of Grandval.

The unblushing grossness of speech which even the ladies of the party
permitted themselves cannot be reproduced in the decorous print of our
age. It is nothing less than inconceivable to us how Diderot can have
brought himself to write down, in letters addressed to a woman of good
education and decent manners, some of the talk that went on at Grandval.
The coarsest schoolboy of these days would wince at such shameless
freedoms. But it would be wrong to forget the allowance that must be
made for differences in point of fashion. Diderot, for instance, in
these very letters is wonderfully frank in his exposure of the details
of his health. He describes his indigestions, and other more
indescribable obstructions to happiness, as freely as Cicero wrote about
the dysentery which punished him, when, after he had resisted oysters
and lampreys at supper, he yielded to a dish of beet and mallow so
dressed with pot-herbs, _ut nil posset esse suavius_. Whatever men could
say to one another or to their surgeons they saw no harm in saying to
women. We have to remember how Sir Walter Scott's great-aunt, about the
very time when Diderot was writing to Mademoiselle Voland, had heard
Mrs. Aphra Behn's books read aloud for the amusement of large circles,
consisting of the first and most creditable society in London. We think
of Swift, in an earlier period of the century, enclosing to Stella some
recklessly gross verses of his own upon Bolingbroke, and habitually
writing to fine ladies in a way that Falstaff might have thought too bad
for Doll Tearsheet. In saying that these coarse impurities are only
points of manners, we are as far as possible from meaning that they are
on that account unimportant. But it is childish to waste our time in
censorious judgment on the individual who does no worse than represent a
ruling type. We can only note the difference and pass on.

A characteristic trait in this rural life is Diderot's passion for high
winds. They gave him a transport, and to hear the storm at night,
tossing the trees, drenching the ground with rain, and filling the air
with the bass of its hoarse ground-tones, was one of his keenest
delights.[203] Yet Diderot was not of those in whom the feeling for the
great effects of nature has something of savagery. He was above all
things human, and the human lot was the central source of his innermost
meditations. In the midst of gossip is constantly interpolated some
passage of fine reflection on life--reflection as sincere, as real,
coming as spontaneously from the writer's inmost mood and genuine
sentiment, as little tainted either by affectation or by commonness, as
ever passed through the mind of a man. Some of these are too
characteristic to be omitted, and there is so little of what is
exquisite in the flavour of Diderot's style, that he perhaps suffers
less from the clumsiness of translation than writers of finer colour or
more stirring melody. One of these passages is as follows:--

"The last news from Paris has made the Baron anxious, as he has
considerable sums in royal securities. He said to his wife: 'Listen, my
friend; if this is going on, I put down the carriage, I buy you a good
cloak and a good parasol, and for the rest of our days we will bless the
minister for ridding us of horses, lackeys, coachmen, ladies'-maids,
cooks, great dinner-parties, false friends, tiresome bores, and all the
other privileges of opulence.' And for my part I began to think, that
for a man without a wife or child, or any of those connections that make
us long for money, and never leave any superfluity, it would be almost
indifferent whether he were poor or rich. This paradox comes of the
equality that I discover among various conditions of life, and in the
little difference that I allow, in point of happiness, between the
master of the house and the hall-porter. If I am sound in mind and body,
if I have worth and a pure conscience, if I know the true from the
false, if I avoid evil and do good, if I feel the dignity of my being,
if nothing lowers me in my own eyes, then people may call me what they
will, _My Lord,_ or _Sirrah_. To do what is good, to know what is
true--that is what distinguishes one man from another; the rest is
nothing. The duration of life is so short, its true needs are so narrow,
and when we go away, it all matters so little whether we have been
somebody or nobody. When the end comes, all that you want is a sorry
piece of canvas and four deal boards. In the morning I hear the
labourers under my window. Scarce has the day dawned before they are at
work with spade and barrow, delving and wheeling. They munch a crust of
black bread; they quench their thirst at the flowing stream; at noon
they snatch an hour of sleep on the hard ground. They are cheerful; they
sing as they work; they exchange their good broad pleasantries with one
another; they shout with laughter. At sundown they go home to find
their children naked round a smoke-blackened hearth, a woman hideous and
dirty, and their lot is neither worse nor better than mine. I came down
from my room in bad spirits; I heard talk about the public misery; I sat
down to a table full of good cheer without an appetite; I had a stomach
overloaded with the dainties of the day before; I grasped a stick and
set out for a walk to find relief; I returned to play cards, and cheat
the heavy-weighing hours. I had a friend of whom I could not hear; I was
far from a woman whom I sighed for. Troubles in the country, troubles in
the town, troubles everywhere. He who knows not trouble is not to be
counted among the children of men. All gets paid off in time; the good
by the evil, evil by good, and life is naught. Perhaps to-morrow night
or Monday morning we may go to pass a day in town; so I shall see the
woman for whom I sighed, and recover the man of whom I could not hear.
But I shall lose them the next day; and the more I feel the happiness of
being with them, the worse I shall suffer at parting. That is the way
that all things go. Turn and turn and turn again; there is ever a
crumpled rose-leaf to vex you."[204]

It is not often that we find such active benevolence as Diderot's, in
conjunction with such a vein of philosophy as follows:--

"Ah, what a fine comedy this world would be, if only one had not to play
a part in it; if one existed, for instance, in some point of space, in
that interval of the celestial orbs where the gods of Epicurus slumber,
far, far away, whence one could see this globe, on which we strut so
big, about the size of a pumpkin, and whence one could watch all the
airs and tricks of that two-footed mite who calls itself man. I would
fain only look at the scenes of life in reduced size, so that those
which are stamped with atrocity may be brought down to an inch in space,
and to actors half a line high. But how bizarre, that our sense of
revolt against injustice is in the ratio of the space and the mass. I am
furious if a large animal unjustly attacks another. I feel nothing at
all if it is two atoms that tear and rend. How our senses affect our
morality. There is a fine text for philosophising!"[205]

"What I see every day of physic and physicians does not much heighten my
opinion of them. To come into the world in imbecility, in the midst of
anguish and cries; to be the toy of ignorance, of error, of necessity,
of sickness, of malice, of all passions; to return step by step to that
imbecility whence one sprang; from the moment when we lisp our first
words, down to the moment when we mumble the words of our dotage, to
live among rascals and charlatans of every kind; to lie expiring between
a man who feels your pulse, and another man who frets and wearies your
head; not to know whence one comes, nor why one has come, nor whither
one is going--that is what we call the greatest gift of our parents and
of nature--human life."[206]

These sombre meditations hardly represent Diderot's habitual vein; they
are rather a reaction and a relief from the busy intensity with which he
watches the scene, and is constantly putting interrogatories to human
life, as day by day its motley circumstance passes before his eyes. We
should scarcely suspect from his frequent repetitions of the mournful
eternal chorus of the nullity of man and the vanity of all the things
that are under the sun, how alert a watch he kept on incident and
character, with what keen and open ear he listened for any curious note
of pain, or voice of fine emotion, or odd perversity of fate. All this
he does, not in the hard temper of a Balzac, not with the calm or pride
of a Goethe, but with an overflowing fulness of spontaneous and
uncontrollable sympathy. He is a sentimentalist in the rationalistic
century, not with the sentimentalism of misanthropy, such as fired or
soured Rousseau, but social, large-hearted, many-sided, careless of the
wise rigours of morality. He is never callous nor neutral; on the
contrary, he is always approving or disapproving, but not from the
standards of the ethical text-books. The casuistry of feeling is of
everlasting interest to him, and he is never tired of inventing
imaginary cases, or pondering real ones, in which pliant feeling is
invoked against the narrowness of duty. These are mostly in a kind of
matter which modern taste hardly allows us to reproduce; nor, after all,
is there much to be gained by turning the sanctities of human
relationship, with all their immeasurable bliss, their immeasurable woe,
into the playthings of an idle dialectic. It is pleasanter, and for us
English not less instructive than pleasant, to see this dreaming,
restless, thrice ingenious spirit, half Titan of the skies, half gnome
of the lower earth, entering joyously or pitifully into the simple charm
and natural tenderness of life as it comes and passes. Nothing delights
him more than to hear or to tell such a story as this of Madame
D'Epinay. She had given a small lad eighteen sous for a day's work. At
night he went home without a farthing. When his mother asked him
whether they had given him nothing for his work, he said No. The mother
found out that this was untrue, and insisted on knowing what had become
of the eighteen sous. The poor little creature had given them to an
alehouse-keeper, where his father had been drinking all day; and so he
had spared the worthy man a rough scene with his wife when he got

From the pathos of kindly youth to the grace of lovable age the step is
not far. "To-day I have dined with a charming woman, who is only eighty
years old. She is full of health and cheerfulness; her soul is still
all gentleness and tenderness. She talks of love and friendship with
the fire and sensibility of a girl of twenty. There were three men of
us at table with her; she said to us, 'My friends, a delicate
conversation, a true and passionate look, a tear, a touched expression,
those are the good things of the world; as for all besides, it is
hardly worth talking of. There are certain things that were said to me
when I was young, and that I remember to this day, and any one of those
words is to be preferred before ten glorious deeds: by my faith, I
believe if I heard them even now, my old heart would beat the quicker.'
'Madame, the reason is that your heart has grown no older.' 'No, my
son, you are right; it is as young as ever. It is not for having kept
me alive so long that I thank God, but for having kept me kind-hearted,
gentle, and full of feeling.'"[208] All this was after Diderot's own
heart, and he declares such a conversation to be worth more than all
the hours of talk on politics and philosophy that he had been having a
few days before with some English friends. We may understand how, as we
shall presently see, a member of a society that could relish the beauty
of such a scene, would be likely to think Englishmen hard, surly, and

His letters constantly offer us sensible and imaginative reflection. He
amused himself in some country village by talking to an old man of
eighty. "I love children and old men; the latter seem to me like some
singular creatures that have been spared by caprice of fate." He meets
some old schoolfellows at Langres, nearly all the rest having gone:
"Well, there are two things that warn us of our end, and set us
musing--old ruins, and the short duration of those who began life with
us." He is taken by a host over-devoted to such joys, to walk among
dung-heaps. "After all," he says, "it ought not to offend one's sense.
To an honest nose that has preserved its natural innocence, 'tis not a
goat, but a bemusked and ambre-scented woman, who smelleth ill."

"When I compare our friendships to our antipathies, I find that the
first are thin, small, pinched; we know how to hate, but we do not know
how to love."

"A poet who becomes idle, does excellently well to be idle; he ought to
be sure that it is not industry that fails, but that his gift is
departing from him."

"Comfort the miserable; that is the true way to console yourself for my
absence. I recollect saying to the Baron, when he lost his first wife,
and was sure that there was not another day's happiness left for him in
this world, 'Hasten out of doors, seek out the wretched, console them,
and then you will pity yourself, if you dare.'"[209]

"An infinitude of tyrannical things interpose between us and the duties
of love and friendship; and we do nothing aright. A man is neither free
for his ambition, nor free for his taste, nor free for his passion. And
so we all live discontented with ourselves. One of the great
inconveniences of the state of society is the multitude of our
occupations and, above all, the levity with which we make engagements to
dispose of all our future happiness. We marry, we go into business, we
have children, all before we have common sense."[210]

After some equivocal speculations as to the conduct of a woman who, by
the surrender of herself for a quarter of an hour to the desires of a
powerful minister, wins an appointment for her husband and bread for her
six children, he exclaims: "In truth, I think Nature heeds neither good
nor evil; she is wholly wrapped up in two objects, the preservation of
the individual and the propagation of the species."[211] True; but the
moral distinction between right and wrong is so much wrung from the
forces that Diderot here calls Nature.

The intellectual excitement in which he lived and the energy with which
he promoted it, sought relief either in calm or else in the play of
sensibility. "A delicious repose," he writes in one of his most harassed
moments, "a sweet book to read, a walk in some open and solitary spot, a
conversation in which one discloses all one's heart, a strong emotion
that brings the tears to one's eyes and makes the heart beat faster,
whether it comes of some tale of generous action, or of a sentiment of
tenderness, of health, of gaiety, of liberty, of indolence--there is the
true happiness, nor shall I ever know any other."

_A Point in Rhetoric._--"Towards six in the evening the party broke up.
I remained alone with D., and as we were talking about the Eloges on
Descartes that had been sent in to the Academy, I made two remarks that
pleased him upon eloquence. One, that it is a mistake to try to stir the
passions before convincing the reason, and that the pathetic remains
without effect, when it is not prepared by the syllogism. Second, that
after the orator had touched me keenly, I could not endure that he
should break in upon this melting of the soul with some violent stroke:
that the pathetic insists on being followed by something moderate, weak,
vague, that should leave room for no contention on my part."[212]

_Holbach's Impressions of England._--"The Baron has returned from
England. He started with the pleasantest anticipations, he had a most
agreeable reception, he had excellent health, and yet he has returned
out of humour and discontented; discontented with the country, which he
found neither as populous nor as well cultivated as people say;
discontented with the buildings, that are nearly all bizarre and Gothic;
with the gardens, where the affectation of imitating nature is worse
than the monotonous symmetry of art; with the taste that heaps up in the
palaces what is first-rate, what is good, what is bad, what is
detestable, all pell-mell. He is disgusted at the amusements, which have
the air of religious ceremonies; with the men, on whose countenances you
never see confidence, friendship, gaiety, sociability, but on every face
the inscription, _'What is there in common between me and you?'_;
disgusted with the great people, who are gloomy, cold, proud, haughty,
and vain; and with the small people, who are hard, insolent, and
barbarous. The only thing that I have heard him praise is the facility
of travel: he says there is not a village, even on a cross-road, where
you do not find four or five post-chaises and a score of horses ready to
start.... There is no public education. The colleges--sumptuous
buildings--palaces to be compared to the Tuileries, are occupied by rich
idlers, who sleep and get drunk one part of the day, and the rest they
spend in training, clumsily enough, a parcel of uncouth lads to be
clergymen.... In the fine places that have been built for public
amusements, you could hear a mouse run. A hundred stiff and silent women
walk round and round an orchestra that is set up in the middle. The
Baron compares these circuits to the seven processions of the Egyptians
round the tomb of Osiris. A charming _mot_ of my good friend Garrick, is
that London is good for the English, but Paris is good for all the
world.... There is a great mania for conversions and missionaries. Mr.
Hume told me a story which will let you know what to think of these
pretended conversions of cannibals and Hurons. A minister thought he had
done a great stroke in this line; he had the vanity to wish to show his
proselyte, and brought him to London. They question his little Huron,
and he answers to perfection. They take him to church, and administer
the sacrament, where, as you know, the communion is in both kinds.
Afterwards, the minister says to him, 'Well, my son, do you not feel
yourself more animated with the love of God? Does not the grace of the
sacrament work within you? Is not all your soul warmed?' 'Yes,' says the
Huron: 'the wine does one good, but I think it would have done still
better if it had been brandy.'"[213]

_Two Cases of Conscience_.--"The curé said that unhappy lovers always
talked about dying, but that it was very rare to find one who kept his
word; still he had seen one case. It was that of a young man of family,
called Soulpse. He fell in love with a young lady of beauty and of good
character, but without money, and belonging to a dishonoured family. Her
father was in the galleys for forgery. The young man, who foresaw all
the opposition, and all the good grounds for opposition, that he would
have to encounter among his family, did all that he could to cure
himself of his passion; but when he was assured of the uselessness of
his efforts, he plucked up courage to open the matter to his parents,
who wearied themselves with remonstrances. Our lover suddenly stopped
them short, saying, 'I know all that you have to say against me; I
cannot disapprove of your reasons, which I should be the first to urge
against my own son, if I had one. But consider whether you would rather
have me dead or badly married; for it is certain that if I do not marry
the woman that I love, I shall die of it.' They treated this speech as
it deserved; the result does not affect that. The young man fell sick,
faded from day to day, and died. 'But, Curé,' said I, 'in the place of
the father, what would you have done?' 'I would have called my son; I
would have said: Soulpse has been your name hitherto; never forget that
it is yours no more; and call yourself by what other name you please.
Here is your lawful share of our property; marry the woman you love, so
far from here that I may never hear speak of you again, and God bless
you. 'For my part,' said old Madame D'Esclavelles, 'if I had been the
mother of the young madman, I would have done exactly as his father did,
and let him die.' And upon this there was a tremendous division of
opinion, and an uproar that made the room ring again.

"The dispute lasted a long time, and would be going on now if the cure
had not broken it off by putting to us another case. A young priest,
discontented with his profession, flees to England, apostatises, marries
according to the law, and has children. After a certain time he longs
for his native country; he comes back to France with his children and
his wife. After that, again, he is stricken by remorse; he returns to
his religion, has scruples about his marriage, and thinks of separating
from his wife. He opens his heart to our curé, who finds the case very
embarrassing, and not venturing to decide it, refers him to casuists and
lawyers. They all decide that he cannot, with a sure conscience, remain
with his wife. When the separation, which the wife opposed with all her
might, was about to be legally effected--rather against the wishes of
our curé--the husband fell dangerously ill. When he knew that he could
not recover, he said to the curé: 'My friend, I wish to make public
amends for my backsliding, to receive the sacraments, and to die in the
hospital; be kind enough to have me taken there.' 'I will take care to
do no such thing,' the curé replied to him. 'This woman is innocent; she
married you according to law; she knew nothing of the obstacles that
existed. And these children, what share have they in your sin? You are
the only wrongdoer, and it is they who are to be punished! Your wife
will be disgraced, your children will be declared illegitimate, and what
is the gain of it all?' And the good curé stuck to his text. He
confessed his man, the illness grew worse, he administered the last
sacraments. The man died, and his wife and children remained in
possession of the titles they had. We all approved the curé's wisdom,
and Grimm insisted on having his portrait taken."[214]

_Chinese Superiority_.---"Apropos of the Chinese, do you know that with
them nobility ascends, and descends never? It is the children who
ennoble their ancestors, and not the ancestors the children. And upon my
word that is most sensible. We are greater poets, greater philosophers,
greater orators, greater architects, greater astronomers, greater
geometers, than these good people; but they understand better than we
the science of good sense and virtue; and if peradventure that science
should happen to be the first of all sciences, they would be right in
saying that they have two eyes and we have only one, and all the rest of
the world is blind."[215]

_Why Women write good Letters_.--"She writes admirably, really
admirably. That is because good style is in the heart; and that is why
so many women talk and write like angels without ever having learnt
either to talk or to write, and why so many pedants will both talk and
write ill all the days of their life, though they were never weary of
studying,--only without learning."[216]

"A little adventure has just happened here that proves that all our fine
sermons on intolerance have as yet produced but poor fruit. A young man
of respectable birth, some say apprentice to an apothecary, others to a
grocer, took it into his head to go through a course of chemistry; his
master consented, on condition that he should pay for board; the lad
agreed. At the end of the quarter the master demanded the money, and it
was paid. Soon after, another demand from the master; the apprentice
replied that he barely owed a single quarter. The master denied that the
first quarter had been paid. The affair was taken into court. The master
is put on his oath, and swears. He had no sooner perjured himself than
the apprentice produced his receipt, and the master was straightway
fined and disgraced. He was a scoundrel who deserved it, but the
apprentice was a rash fellow, whose victory was bought at a price dearer
than life. He had received, in payment or otherwise, from some
colporteur, two copies of _Christianity Unveiled_, and one of them he
had sold to his master. The master informs against him. The colporteur,
his wife, and his apprentice, are all three arrested, and they have just
been pilloried, whipped, and branded, and the apprentice condemned to
nine years of the galleys, the colporteur to five years, and the woman
to the hospital for life.... Do you see the meaning of this judgment? A
colporteur brings me a prohibited book. If I buy more than one copy, I
am declared to be encouraging unlawful trading, and exposed to a
frightful prosecution. You have read the _Man with Forty Crowns_,[217]
and will hardly be able to guess why it is placed under the ban in the
judgment I am telling you of. It is in consequence of the profound
resentment that our lords and masters feel about a certain article,
_Tyrant_, in the _Philosophical Dictionary_. They will never forgive
Voltaire for saying that it was better to have to do with a single wild
beast, which one could avoid, than with a band of little subaltern
tigers who are incessantly getting between your legs.... To return to
those two unfortunate wretches whom they have condemned to the galleys.
When they come out, what will become of them? There will be nothing left
for them to do, save to turn highway robbers. The ignominious
penalties, which take away all resource from a man, are worse than the
capital punishment that takes away his life."[218]

_Method and Genius: an Apologue._--"There was a question between Grimm
and M. Le Roy of creative genius and co-ordinating method. Grimm detests
method; according to him, it is the pedantry of letters. Those who can
only arrange, would do as well to remain idle; those who can only get
instruction from what has been arranged, would do as well to remain
ignorant. What necessity is there for so many people knowing anything
else besides their trade? They said a great many things that I don't
report to you, and they would be saying things still, if the Abbé
Galiani had not interrupted them:

'My friends, I remember a fable: pray listen to it. One day, in the
depths of a forest, a dispute arose between a Nightingale and a Cuckoo.
Each prizes its own gift. What bird, said the Cuckoo, has a song so
easy, so simple, so natural, so measured, as mine?

What bird, said the Nightingale, has a song sweeter, more varied, more
brilliant, more touching, than mine?

_The Cuckoo:_ I say few things, but they are things of weight, of order,
and people retain them.

_The Nightingale:_ I love to use my voice, but I am always fresh, and I
never weary. I enchant the woods; the Cuckoo makes them dismal. He is so
attached to the lessons of his mother, that he would not dare to venture
a single note that he had not taken from her. Now for me, I recognise no
master. I laugh at rules. What comparison between his pedantic method
and my glorious bursts?

The Cuckoo tried several times to interrupt the Nightingale. But
nightingales always go on singing, and never listen; that is rather
their weakness. Ours, carried away by his ideas, followed them with
rapidity, without paying the least attention to the answers of his

So after some talk and counter-talk, they agreed to refer their quarrel
to the judgment of a third animal. But where were they to find this
third, equally competent and impartial? It is not so easy to find a good
judge. They sought on every side. As they crossed a meadow, they spied
an Ass, one of the gravest and most solemn that ever was seen. Since the
creation of the world, no ass had ever had such long ears. 'Ah,' said
the Cuckoo, 'our luck is excellent; our quarrel is a matter of ears:
here is our judge. God Almighty made him for the very purpose!'

The Ass went on browsing. He little thought that one day he would have
to decide a question of music. But Providence amuses itself with this
and many another thing. Our two birds bow very low, compliment him upon
his gravity and his judgment, explain the subject of their dispute, and
beseech him, with all deference, to listen to their case and decide.

But the Ass, hardly turning his heavy head and without losing a single
toothsome blade, makes them a sign with his ears that he is hungry, and
that he does not hold his court to-day. The birds persist; the Ass goes
on browsing. At last his hunger was appeased. There were some trees
planted by the edge of the meadow. 'Now, if you like,' said he, 'you go
there, I will follow; you shall sing, I will digest; I will listen, and
I'll give you my opinion.'

The birds instantly fly away, and perch on branches. The Ass follows
them with the air and the step of a chief justice crossing Westminster
Hall: he stretches himself flat on the ground, and says, 'Begin, the
court listens.'

Says the Cuckoo: 'My lord, there is not a word to lose. I beg of you to
seize carefully the character of my singing; above all things, deign, my
lord, to mark its artifice and its method.' Then filling its throat, and
flapping its wings at each note, it sang out, 'Coucou, coucou, coucou,
coucou, coucou, coucou.' And after having combined this in every
possible way, it fell silent.

The Nightingale, without any prelude, pours forth his voice at once,
launches into the most daring modulations, pursues the freshest and most
delicate melodies, cadences, pauses, and trills; now you heard the notes
murmuring at the bottom of its throat, like the ripple of the brook as
it loses itself among the pebbles; now you heard them rising and
gradually swelling and filling the air, and lingering long-drawn in the
skies. It was tender, glad, brilliant, pathetic; but his music was not
made for everybody.

Carried away by enthusiasm, he would be singing still; but the Ass, who
had already yawned more than once, stopped him, and said, 'I suspect
that all you have been singing there is uncommonly fine, but I don't
understand a word of it: it strikes me as bizarre, incoherent, and
confused. It may be you are more scientific than your rival; but he is
more methodic than you, and for my part, I'm for method.'

"And then the abbé, addressing M. Le Roy, and pointing to Grimm with his
finger: 'There,' he said, 'is the nightingale, and you the cuckoo; and I
am the ass, who decide in your favour. Good-night.'

"The abbés stories are capital, but he acts in a way that makes them
better still. You would have died with laughing to see him stretch his
neck into the air, and imitate the fine note of the nightingale, then
fill his throat, and take up the hoarse tone for the cuckoo; and all
that naturally, and without effort. He is pantomime from head to

_Conversation._--"'Tis a singular thing, conversation, especially when
the company is tolerably large. Look at the roundabout circuits we took;
the dreams of a patient in delirium are not more incongruous. Still,
just as there is nothing absolutely unconnected in the head either of a
man who dreams, or of a lunatic, so all hangs together in conversation;
but it would often be extremely hard to find the imperceptible links
that have brought so many disparate ideas together. A man lets fall a
word which he detaches from what has gone before, and what has followed
in his head; another does the same, and then let him catch the thread
who can. A single physical quality may lead the mind that is engaged
upon it to an infinity of different things. Take a colour--yellow, for
instance; gold is yellow, silk is yellow, care is yellow, bile is
yellow, straw is yellow; to how many other threads does not this thread
answer? Madness, dreaming, the rambling of conversation, all consist in
passing from one object to another, through the medium of some common

_Annihilation._--"The conversation took a serious turn. They spoke of
the horror that we all feel for annihilation.

"'Ah,' cried Father Hoop, 'be good enough to leave me out, if you
please. I have been too uncomfortable the first time to have any wish to
come back. If they would give me an immortality of bliss for a single
day of purgatory, I would not take it. The best that can befall us is to
cease to be.'

"This set me musing, and it seemed to me that so long as I was in good
health I should agree with Father Hoop; but that, at the last instant, I
should perhaps purchase the happiness of living again by a thousand,
nay, ten thousand, years of hell. Ah, my dear, if I thought that I
should see you again, I should soon persuade myself of what a daughter
once succeeded in persuading her father on his deathbed. He was an old
usurer; a priest had sworn to him that he would be damned unless he made
restitution. He resolved to comply, and calling his daughter to his
bedside, said to her: 'My child, you thought I should leave you very
rich, and so I should; but the man there insists that I shall burn in
hell-fire for ever, if I die without making restitution.' 'You are
talking nonsense, father, with your restitution and your damnation,' the
daughter answered; 'with your character I you will not have been damned
ten years, before you will be perfectly used to it.'

"This struck him as true, and he died without making restitution.

"And so behold us launched into a discussion on life and death, on the
world and its alleged Creator.

"Some one remarked that whether there be a God or no, it is impossible
to introduce that device either into nature or into a discussion without
darkening it.

"Another said that if a single supposition explained all the phenomena,
it would not follow from this that it is true; for who knows whether the
general order only allows of one reason? What, then, must we think of a
supposition which, so far from resolving the one difficulty for the sake
of which people imagined it, only makes an infinity of others spring up
from it?

"I believe, my dear, that our chat by the fireside still amuses you; so
I go on.

"Among these difficulties is one that has been proposed ever since the
world has been a world; 'tis that men suffer without having deserved
suffering. There has been no answer to it yet. 'Tis the incompatibility
of physical and moral evil with the nature of the Eternal Being. This is
how the dilemma is put: it is either impotence or bad will; impotence,
if he wished to hinder evil and could not; bad will, if he could have
hindered it and did not will it. A child would understand that. It is
this that has led people to imagine the fault of the first father of us
all, original sin, future rewards and punishments, the incarnation,
immortality, the two principles of the Manicheans, the Ormuzd and
Ahriman of the Persians, the doctrine of emanations, the empire of light
and darkness, metempsychosis, optimism, and other absurdities that have
found credit among the different nations of the earth, where there is
always to be found some hollow vision of a dream, by way of answer to a
clear, precise, and definite fact.

"On such occasions what is the part of good sense? Why, the part that we
took: whatever the optimists may say, we will reply to them that if the
universe could not exist without sensible creatures, nor sensible
creatures without pain, there was nothing to do but to leave chaos at
peace. They had got on very well for a whole eternity without any such
piece of folly.

"The world a piece of folly! Ah, my dear, a glorious folly for all that!
'Tis, according to some of the inhabitants of Malabar, one of the
seventy-four comedies with which the Eternal amuses himself.

"Leibnitz, the founder of optimism, tells somewhere how there was in the
Temple of Memphis a high pyramid of globes placed one above the others;
how a priest, being asked by a traveller about this pyramid and its
globes, made answer that these were all the possible worlds, and that
the most perfect of them all was at the summit; how the traveller,
curious to see this most perfect of all possible worlds, mounted to the
top of the pyramid, and the first thing that caught his eyes, as they
turned towards the globe at the summit, was Tarquin outraging

Almost every letter reminds us that we are in the very height of the
disputing, arguing, rationalistic century. Diderot delighted in this
kind of argument, as Socrates or Dr. Johnson delighted in it. He was
above all others the archetype and representative of the passion for
moralising, analysing, and philosophising which made the epoch what it
was; but the rest of the world was all in the same vein. If he came to
Paris in a coach from the country, he found a young lady in it, eager to
demonstrate that serious passions are nowadays merely ridiculous; that
people only promise themselves pleasure, which they find or not, as the
case may be; that thus they spare themselves all the broken oaths of old
days. "I took the liberty of saying that I was still a man of those old
days. '_So much the worse for you_,' she said, '_you either deceive or
are deceived, and one is as bad as the other_.'"[222] If Grimm and
Madame d'Epinay and he were together, they discussed ethics from morning
to night; Diderot always on the side of the view that made most for the
dignity and worth of human nature. Grimm is described on one of these
occasions as having rather displeased Madame d'Epinay: "He was not
sufficiently ready to disapprove the remark of a man of our
acquaintance, who said that it was right to observe the most scrupulous
probity with one's friends, but that it was mere dupery to treat other
people better than they would treat us. We maintained, she and I, that
it was right and necessary to be honest and good with all the world
without distinction."[223]

Here is another picture of discussion, with an introduction that is
thoroughly characteristic of Diderot's temper:

"This man looks at the human race only on its dark side. He does not
believe in virtuous actions; he disparages them, and denies them. If he
tells a story, it is always about something scandalous and abominable.
I have just told you of the two women of my acquaintance, of whom he
took occasion to speak as ill as he could to Madame Le Gendre. They have
their defects, no doubt; but they have also their good qualities. Why be
silent about the good qualities, and only pick out the defects? There is
in all that a kind of envy that wounds me--me who read men as I read
authors, and who never burden my memory except with things that are good
to know and good to imitate. The conversation between Suard and Madame
Le Gendre had been very vivacious. They sought the reasons why persons
of sensibility were so readily, so strongly, so deliciously moved at the
story of a good action. Suard maintained that it was due to a sixth
sense that nature had endowed us with, to judge the good and the
beautiful. They pressed to know what I thought of it. I answered that
this sixth sense was a chimæra; that all was the result of experience in
us; that we learnt from our earliest infancy what it was in our instinct
to hide or to show. When the motives of our actions, our judgments, our
demonstrations, are present to us, we have what is called science; when
they are not present to our memory, we have only what is called taste,
instinct, and tact. The reasons for showing ourselves sensible to the
recital of good actions are numberless: we reveal a quality that is
worthy of infinite esteem; we promise to others our esteem, if ever they
deserve it by any uncommon or worthy piece of conduct.... Independently
of all these views of interest, we have a notion of order, and a taste
for order, which we cannot resist, and which drags us along in spite of
ourselves. Every fine action implies sacrifice; and it is impossible for
us not to pay our homage to self-sacrifice"--and so forth.[224]

Alas, all these endless debates and dialogues lacked the inspiration and
the charm with which the genius of a Plato could adorn the narrowest
quibble between Socrates and a Sophist. "Diderot," said Mademoiselle de
Lespinasse, "is an extraordinary man; he is out of his place in society;
he was meant for the chief of a sect, a Greek philosopher, instructing
youth. He pleases me greatly, but his manner does not touch my
soul."[225] And we understand this. People disputed what virtue is, but
the dispute failed in that undefined spirit which makes men love and
adore virtue. Goodness is surrounded with no spacious beauty, it is
clothed with none of the high associations of spontaneous piety. The
discussion seems close, stifling, and airless. Yet ages of loftier
speech and greater spirituality have not always been so favourable to
the affections or to the attachments of life. In amiability that society
has never been surpassed; in sincerity of mutual sympathy and kindliness
of mutual regard. The common irregularity of morals was seen to be
perfectly compatible not merely with a desire to please, but with an
honest anxiety to serve.

Of the thorough excellence of Diderot's heart, of his friendliness and
unwearied helpfulness, time would fail us to tell. Men's conceptions of
friendship differ as widely as their conceptions of other things. Some
look to friendship for absolute exemption from all criticism, and for a
mutual admiration without limit or conditions. Others mistake it for the
right of excessive criticism, in season and out of season.

Diderot was content to take friendship as the right, the duty, or the
privilege of rendering services, without thought of requiring either
them, or gratitude for them, back in return. This we must confess to be
rare. No man that ever lived showed more sterling interest in furthering
the affairs of others around him. He seemed to admit every claim on his
time, his purse, and his talents. A stranger called upon him one day,
and begged Diderot to write for him a puffing advertisement of a new
pomatum. Diderot with a laugh sat down and wrote what was wanted. The
graver occasions of life found him no less ready. Damilaville lost one
of his children, and his wife was inconsolable. It was Diderot who was
summoned, and who cheerfully went for days together to soothe and divert
her mind. For his correspondent and for us he makes the tedium of his
story beautiful by recalling the fine saying of a grief-stricken woman
in Metastasio, when they tried to console her by the example of Abraham,
who was ready even to slay his son at the command of God: _Ah, God would
never have given such an order to his mother!_

The abbé Le Monnier wrote the worst verses that ever were read, a play
that was instantly damned, and a translation of Terence that came into
the world dead. But bad writers are always the most shameless intruders
on the time of good critics, and we find Diderot willingly spending
hours over the abbé's handwriting, which was as wretched as what he
wrote, and then spending hours more in offering critical observations
on verses that were only fit to be thrown into the fire. The abbé, being
absent from Paris and falling short of money, requested Diderot to sell
for him his copy of the Encyclopædia. "I have sold your Encyclopædia,"
said Diderot, "but did not get so much as I expected, for the rumour
spread abroad by those scoundrels of Swiss booksellers, that they were
going to issue a revised edition, has done us some harm. Send for the
nine hundred and fifty livres (about £40) that belong to you, and if
that is not enough for your expenses, besides the drawer that holds your
money is another that holds mine. I don't know how much there is, but I
will count it all at your disposal."[226]

One Jodin, again, was a literary hack who had been employed on the
Encyclopædia. He died, leaving a foolish and extravagant widow, and a
perverse and violent daughter. The latter went on to the stage, and
Diderot took as much trouble in advising her, in seeking appointments
for her, in executing her commissions, in investing her earnings, in
dealing with her relatives, as if he had been her own father. If his
counsels on her art are admirable, there is something that moves us with
more than admiration in the good sense, the right feeling, the
worthiness of his counsels on conduct. And Diderot did not merely
moralise at large. All that he says is real, pointed, and apt for
circumstance and person. The petulant damsel to whom they were addressed
would not be likely to yawn over the sharp remonstrances, the vigorous
plain speaking, the downright honesty and visible sincerity of his
friendliness. It appears that she had sense enough not to be offended
with the frankness of her father's old employer, for after he has
plainly told her that she is violent, rude, vain, and not always too
truthful, she still writes to him from Warsaw, from Dresden, from
Bordeaux, praying him to procure a certain bracelet for her, to arrange
her mother's affairs, to find a good investment for twelve thousand
francs. When the mother was in the depths of indigence, Diderot insisted
that she should take her meals at his own table. And all this for no
other reason than that the troublesome pair had been thrown in his way
by the chance of human circumstance, and needed help which he was able,
not without sacrifice, to give. Mademoiselle Jodin was hardly worthy of
so good a friend. Her parents were Protestants, and as she was a
convert, she enjoyed a pension of some eight pounds a year. That did not
prevent her from one day indulging in some too sprightly sallies, as the
host was carried along the street. For this she was put into prison, and
that is our last glimpse of the light creature.[227]

Men knew how to be as wrong-headed and as graceless as women. We have
already mentioned the name of Landois in connection with Diderot's
article on Liberty. Landois seems to have been a marvel of
unreasonableness, but he was a needy man of letters, and that was
enough to make Diderot ready to bear with him and to succour him. He
wound up an epistle abounding, after the manner of the worthless
failures of the world, in reproaches and grievances against his
benefactor, with a cool request about a manuscript that was full of
dangerous matter. "Why, that," replied Diderot, "is a work that might
well be the ruin of me! And it is after you have on two separate
occasions charged me with the most atrocious and deliberate offences
towards you, that you now propose that I should revise and print your
work! You know that I have a wife and child, that I am a marked man,
that you are putting me into the class of hardened offenders; never
mind, you don't think of one of these things. You take me for an
imbecile, or else you are one. But you are no imbecile.... I see through
men's designs, and often enough I lend myself to them, without deigning
to disabuse them as to the stupidity which they impute to me. It is
enough if I perceive in their design some great service for them, and
not an excess of inconvenience for myself. It is not I who am the fool,
so often as people take me for one." Diderot then seems half to forget
to whom he is writing and pours out what reads like a long soliloquy on
morals, conduct, and the philosophy of life. He insists that man, with
all his high-flying freedom of will, is but a little link in a great
chain of events. He is a creature to be modified from without; hence the
good effects of example, discourse, education, pleasures, pains,
greatness, misery. Hence a sort of philosophy of commiseration, which
attaches us strongly to the good, and irritates us no more against the
bad than against a wind-storm that fills our eyes with dust. If you
adopt such principles as these, they will reconcile you with others and
yourself; you will neither praise nor blame yourself for what you are.
To reproach others with nothing, to repent yourself of nothing--these
are the two first steps towards wisdom; this is the philosophy that
reconciles us with the human race and with life.[228]

When he was in the very midst of all the toil and strife that the
Encyclopædia brought upon him, he could not refuse to spend three whole
days in working like a galley-slave at an account of an important
discovery that had been made by some worthy people with whom he was
acquainted slightly. "But while I was busy about their affairs, my own
are at a standstill. I write to you from Le Breton's, with a mass of
uncorrected proofs before me, and the printers crying out for them.
Still Grimm must be right, when he says that time is not a thing of
which we are free to dispose at our own fancy; that we owe it first and
foremost to our friends, our relations, our daily duties; and that in
the lavish profusion of our time on people who are indifferent, there is
nothing less than vice."[229] Yet in spite of Grimm's most just
remonstrance, the lavish profusion always went on as before.

There was one man, and only one man, for whose perverse and intractable
spirit Diderot's most friendly patience, helpfulness, and devotion,
were no match. I have already, in dealing with Rousseau,[230] said as
much of the quarrel which he picked with Diderot as the matter
requires, and it would be superfluous to go over the ground again from
another side. Whether we listen to Rousseau's story or to Diderot's
story, our judgment on what happened remains unchanged. We have already
seen how warm and close an intimacy subsisted between them in the days
when Diderot was a prisoner at Vincennes (1749). When Rousseau made up
his mind to leave Paris and turn hermit (1756), there was a loud outcry
from the social group at Holbach's. They said to him, in the least
theological dialect of their day, what Sir Walter Scott had said to
Ballantyne when Ballantyne thought of leaving Edinburgh, that, "when
our Saviour himself was to be led into temptation, the first thing the
Devil thought of was to get him into the wilderness." Diderot
remonstrated rather more loudly than Rousseau's other friends, but
there was no breach, and even no coolness. What sort of humours were
bred by solitude in Rousseau's wayward mind we know, and the
Confessions tell us how for a year and a half he was silently brooding
over fancied slights and perhaps real pieces of heedlessness. Grimm,
who was Diderot's closest friend next to Mademoiselle Voland, despised
Rousseau, and Rousseau detested Grimm. "Grimm," he one day said to a
disciple, "is the only man whom I have ever been able to hate." Madame
d'Epinay was compelled to go to Geneva for her health, and Grimm easily
persuaded Diderot that Rousseau was bound by all the ties of gratitude
to accompany his benefactress on the expedition. Diderot wrote to the
hermit a very strong letter to this effect: it made Rousseau furious.
He declined the urgent counsel, he quarrelled outright and violently
with Grimm, and after an angry and confusing interview with Diderot,
all intercourse ceased with him also. "That man," wrote Diderot, on the
evening of this, their last interview, "intrudes into my work; he fills
me with trouble, and I feel as if I were haunted by a damned soul at my
side. May I never see him more; he would make me believe in devils and
hell."[231] And writing afterwards to some friend at Geneva, he recalls
the days when he used to pour out the talk of intimacy "with the man
who has buried himself at the bottom of a wood, where his soul has been
soured and his moral nature has been corrupted. Yet how I pity him!
Imagine that I used to love him, that I remember those old days of
friendship, and that I see him now with crime on one side and remorse
on the other, with deep waters in front of him. He will many a time be
the torment of my thought; our common friends have judged between him
and me; I have kept them all, and to him there remains not one."[232]
It was not in Diderot's nature to bear malice, and when eight years
later Rousseau passed through Paris on his ill-starred way to England
and the Derbyshire hills, Diderot described the great pleasure that a
visit from Rousseau would give to him. "Ah, I do well," he says, "not
to let the access to my heart be too easy; when anybody has once found
a place in it, he does not leave it without making a grievous rent;
'tis a wound that can never be thoroughly cauterised."[233]

It is needless to remind the neutral reader that Rousseau uses exactly
the same kind of language about his heart. For this is the worst of
sentimentalism, that it is so readily bent into a substitution of
indulgence to oneself for upright and manly judgment about others. Still
we may willingly grant that in the present rupture of a long friendship,
it was not Diderot who was the real offender. _Too many honest people
would be in the wrong_, he most truly said, _if Jean Jacques were in the

Of Grimm, I have already said elsewhere as much as is needful to be
said.[234] His judgment in matters of conduct and character was cool and
rather hard, but it was generally sound. He had a keen eye for what was
hollow in the pretensions of the society in which he lived. Above all,
he had the keen eye of his countrymen for his own interest, and for the
use which he could make of other people. The best thing that we know in
his favour, is that he should have won the friendship of Diderot.
Diderot's attachment to Grimm seems like an exaggeration of the excesses
of the epoch of sentimentalism in Germany.

He pines for a letter from him, as he pined for letters from
Mademoiselle Voland. If Grimm had been absent for a few months, their
meeting was like a scene in a melodrama. "With what ardour we enclasped
one another. My heart was swimming. I could not speak a word, nor could
he. We embraced without speaking, and I shed tears. We were not
expecting him. We were all at dessert when he was announced, _'Here is
M. Grimm.'_ '_M. Grimm_,' I exclaimed, with a loud cry; and starting up,
I ran to him and fell on his neck. He sat down, and ate a poor meal, you
may be sure. As for me, I could not open my lips either to eat or to
speak. He was next to me, and I kept pressing his hand and gazing at
him."[235] Mademoiselle Voland appears on some occasion to have compared
Diderot with his friend. "No more comparison, I beseech you, my good
friend, between Grimm and me. I console myself for his superiority by
frankly recognising it. I am vain of the victory that I thus gain over
my self-love, and you must not deprive me of that little
advantage."[236] Grimm, however, knew better than Diderot how to unite
German sentimentalism with a steady selfishness. "I have just received
from Grimm," writes good-natured Diderot, "a note that wounds my too
sensitive spirit. I had promised to write him a few lines on the
exhibition of pictures in the Salon; he writes to me that if it is not
ready to-morrow, it will be of no use. I will be revenged for this kind
of hardness, and in a way that becomes me. I worked all day yesterday,
and all day to-day. I shall pass the night at work, and all to-morrow,
and at nine o'clock he shall receive a volume of manuscript."[237] We
may doubt whether his German friend would feel the force of a rebuke so
extremely convenient to himself.

While Grimm was amusing himself at Madame d'Epinay's country house,
Diderot was working at the literary correspondence which Grimm was
accustomed to send to St. Petersburg and the courts of Germany. While
Grimm was hunting pensions and honorary titles at Saxe-Gotha, or
currying favour with Frederick and waiting for gold boxes at Potsdam,
Diderot was labouring like any journeyman in writing on his behalf
accounts and reviews of the books, good, bad, and indifferent, with
which the Paris market teemed. When there were no new books to talk
about, the ingenious man, with the resource of the born journalist, gave
extracts from books that did not exist.[238] When we hear of Paris being
the centre of European intelligence and literary activity, we may
understand that these circular letters of Grimm and Diderot were the
machinery by which the light of Paris was diffused among darker lands.
It is not too much to say that no contemporary record so intelligent, so
independent, so vigorous, so complete, exists of any other remarkable
literary epoch.

The abbé Raynal, of whom we shall have more to say in a later chapter,
had founded this counterpart of a modern review in 1747, and he sent a
copy of it in manuscript once a month to anybody who cared to pay three
hundred francs a year. In 1753 Raynal had handed the business over to
Grimm, and by him it was continued until 1790, twelve years beyond the
life of Voltaire and of Rousseau, and six years after the death of the
ablest, most original, and most ungrudging of all those who gave him
their help.

An interesting episode in Diderot's life brought him into direct
relations with one of the two crowned patrons of the revolutionary
literature, who were philosophers in profession and the most arbitrary
of despots in their practice. Frederick the Great, whose literary taste
was wholly in the vein of the conventional French classic, was never
much interested by Diderot's writing, and felt little curiosity about
him. Catherine of Russia was sufficiently an admirer of the Encyclopædia
to be willing to serve its much-enduring builder. In 1765, when the
enterprise was in full course, Diderot was moved by a provident anxiety
about the future of his daughter. He had no dower for her in case a
suitor should present himself, and he had but a scanty substance to
leave her in case of his own death. The income of the property which he
inherited from his father was regularly handed to his wife for the
maintenance of the household. His own earnings, as we have seen, were of
no considerable amount. There are men of letters, he wrote in 1767, to
whom their industry has brought as much as twenty, thirty, eighty, or
even a hundred thousand francs. As for himself, he thought that perhaps
the fruit of his literary occupations would come to about forty thousand
crowns, or some five thousand pounds sterling. "One could not amass
wealth," he said pensively, and his words are of grievous generality for
the literary tribe, "but one could acquire ease and comfort, if only
these sums were not spread over so many years, did not vanish away as
they were gathered in, and had not all been scattered and spent by the
time that years had multiplied, wants, grown more numerous, eyes grown
dim, and mind become blunted and worn."[239] This was his own case. His
earnings were never thriftily husbanded. Diderot could not deny himself
a book or an engraving that struck his fancy, though he was quite
willing to make a present of it to any appreciative admirer the day
after he had bought it. He was extravagant in hiring a hackney-coach
where another person would have gone on foot, and not seldom the
coachman stood for half a day at the door, while the heedless passenger
was expatiating within upon truth, virtue, and the fine arts,
unconscious of the passing hours and the swollen reckoning. Hence, when
the time came, there were no savings. We have to take a man with the
defects of his qualities, and as Diderot would not have been Diderot if
he had taken time to save money, there is no more to be said.

When it became his duty to provide for his daughter, between 1763 and
1765, he resolved to sell his library. Through Grimm, Diderot's position
reached the ears of the Empress of Russia. Her agent was instructed to
buy the library at the price fixed by its possessor, and Diderot
received sixteen thousand livres, a sum equal to something more than
seven hundred pounds sterling of that day. The Empress added a handsome
bounty to the bargain. She requested Diderot to consider himself the
custodian of the new purchase on her behalf, and to receive a thousand
livres a year for his pains. The salary was paid for fifty years in
advance, and so Diderot drew at once what must have seemed to him the
royal sum of between two and three thousand pounds sterling--a figure
that would have to be trebled, or perhaps quadrupled, to convey its
value in the money of our own day. We may wish for the honour of letters
that Diderot had been able to preserve his independence. But pensions
were the custom of the time. Voltaire, though a man of solid wealth, did
not disdain an allowance from Frederick the Great, and complained
shrilly because it was irregularly paid at the very time when he knew
that Frederick was so short of money that he was driven to melt his
plate. D'Alembert also had his pension from Berlin, and Grimm, as we
have seen, picked up unconsidered trifles in half of the northern
courts. Frederick offered an allowance to Rousseau, but that strange
man, in whom so much that was simple, touching, and lofty, mingled with
all that was wayward and perverse, declined to tax the king's strained

It would shed an instructive light upon authorship and the characters of
famous men, if we could always know the relations between a writer and
his booksellers. Diderot's point of view in considering the great modern
enginery and processes of producing and selling books, was invariably,
like his practice, that of a man of sound common sense and sterling
integrity. We have seen in the previous chapter something of the
difficulties of the trade in those days. The booksellers were a close
guild of three hundred and sixty members, and the printers were limited
to thirty-six. Their privileges brought them little fortune. They were
of the lowest credit and repute, and most of them were hardly better
than beggars. It was said that not a dozen out of the three hundred and
sixty could afford to have more than one coat for his back. They were
bound hand and foot by vexatious rules, and their market was gradually
spoiled by a band of men whom they hated as interlopers, but whom the
public had some reason to bless. No bookseller nor printer could open an
establishment outside of the quarter of the University, or on the north
side of the bridges. The restriction, which was as old as the
introduction of printing into France, had its origin in the days when
the visits of the royal inspectors to the presses and bookshops were
constant and rigorous, and it saved the time of the officials to have
all their business close to their hand. Inasmuch, however, as people
insisted on having books, and as they did not always choose to be at the
pains of making a long journey to the region of the booksellers' shops,
hawkers sprang into existence. Men bought books or got them on credit
from the booksellers, and carried them in a bag over their shoulders to
the houses of likely customers, just as a peddler now carries laces and
calico, cheap silks and trumpory jewellery, round the country villages.
Even poor women filled their aprons with a few books, took them across
the bridges, and knocked at people's doors. This would have been well
enough in the eyes of the guild, if the hawkers had been content to buy
from the legally patented booksellers. But they began secretly to turn
publishers in a small way on their own account. Contraband was here, as
always, the natural substitute for free trade. They both issued pirated
editions of their own, and they became the great purchasers and
distributors of the pirated editions that came in vast bales from
Switzerland, from Holland, from the Pope's country of Avignon. To their
craft or courage the public owed its copies of works whose circulation
was forbidden by the government. The Persian Letters of Montesquieu was
a prohibited book, but, for all that, there were a hundred editions of
it before it had been published twenty years, and every schoolboy could
find a copy on the quays for a dozen halfpence. Bayle's Thoughts on the
Comet, Rousseau's Emilius and Heloïsa, Helvétius's L'Esprit, and a
thousand other forbidden pieces were in every library, both public and
private. The Social Contract, printed over and over again in endless
editions, was sold for a shilling under the vestibule of the king's own
palace. When the police were in earnest, the hawker ran horrible risks,
as we saw a few pages further back; for these risks he recompensed
himself by his prices. A prohibition by the authorities would send a
book up within four-and-twenty hours from half a crown to a couple of
louis. This only increased the public curiosity, quickened the demand,
led to clandestine reprints, and extended the circulation of the book
that was nominally suppressed. When the condemnation of a book was cried
through the streets, the compositors said, "Good, another edition!"
There was no favour that an unknown author could have asked from the
magistrates so valuable to him as a little decree condemning his work to
be torn up and burnt at the foot of the great staircase of the Palace of

It was this practical impossibility of suppression that interested both
the guild of publishers and the government in the conditions of the book
trade. The former were always harassed, often kept poor, and sometimes
ruined, by systematic piracy and the invasion of their rights. The
government, on the other hand, could not help seeing that, as the books
could not possibly be kept out of the realm, it was to be regretted
that their production conferred no benefit on the manufacturing industry
of the realm, the composition, the printing, the casting of type, the
fabrication of paper, the preparation of leather and vellum, the making
of machines and tools. When Bayle's Dictionary appeared, it was the rage
of Europe. Hundreds of the ever-renowned folios found their way into
France, and were paid for by French money. The booksellers addressed the
minister, and easily persuaded him of the difference, according to the
economic light of those days, between an exchange of money against
paper, compared with an exchange of paper against paper. The minister
replied that this was true, but still that the gates of the kingdom
would never be opened to a single copy of Bayle. "The best thing to do,"
he said, "is to print it here." And the third edition of Bayle was
printed in France, much to the contentment of the French printers,
binders, and booksellers.

In 1761 the booksellers were afflicted by a new alarm. Foreign pirates
and domestic hawkers were doing them mischief enough. But in that year
the government struck a blow at the very principle of literary property.
The King's Council conferred upon the descendants of La Fontaine the
exclusive privilege of publishing their ancestor's works. That is to
say, the Council took away without compensation from La Fontaine's
publishers a copyright for which they had paid in hard cash. The whole
corporation naturally rose in arms, and in due time the lieutenant of
police was obliged to take the whole matter into serious
consideration--whether the maintenance of the guild of publishers was
expedient; whether the royal privilege of publishing a book should be
regarded as conferring a definite and unassailable right of property in
the publication; whether the tacit permission to publish what it would
have been thought unbecoming to authorise expressly by royal sanction,
should not be granted liberally or even universally; and whether the old
restriction of the booksellers to one quarter of the town ought to
remain in force any longer. M. de Sartine invited Diderot to write him a
memorandum on the subject, and was disappointed to find Diderot
staunchly on the side of the booksellers (1767). He makes no secret,
indeed, that for his own part he would like to see the whole apparatus
of restraint abolished, but meanwhile he is strong for doing all that a
system of regulation, as opposed to a system of freedom, can do to make
the publication of books a source of prosperity to the bookseller, and
of cheap acquisition to the book-buyer. Above all things, Diderot is
vehemently in favour of the recognition of literary property, and
against such infringement of it as had been ventured upon in the case of
La Fontaine. He had no reason to be especially friendly to booksellers,
but for one thing, he saw that to nullify or to tamper with copyright
was in effect to prevent an author from having any commodity to sell,
and so to do him the most serious injury possible. And for another
thing, Diderot had equity and common sense enough to see that no
high-flown nonsense about the dignity of letters and the spiritual power
could touch the fact that a book is a piece of marketable ware, and that
the men who deal in such wares have as much claim to be protected in
their contracts as those who deal in any other wares.[242]

There is a vivid illustration of this unexpected business-like quality
in Diderot, in a conversation that he once had with D'Alembert. The
dialogue is interesting to those who happen to be curious as to the
characters of two famous men. It was in 1759, when D'Alembert was tired
of the Encyclopædia, and was for making hard terms as the condition of
his return to it. "If," said Diderot to him, "six months ago, when we
met to deliberate on the continuation of the work, you had then proposed
these terms, the booksellers would have closed with them on the spot,
but now, when they have the strongest reasons to be out of humour with
you, that is another thing."

"And pray, what reasons?"

"Can you ask me?"


"Then I will tell you. You have a bargain with the booksellers; the
terms are stipulated; you have nothing to ask beyond them. If you worked
harder than you were bound to do, that was out of your interest in the
book, out of friendship to me, out of respect for yourself; people do
not pay in money for such motives as these. Still they sent you twenty
louis a volume: that makes a hundred and forty louis that you had beyond
what was due to you. You plan a journey to Wesel [in 1752, to meet
Frederick of Prussia] at a time when you were wanted by them here; they
do not detain you; on the contrary, you are short of money, and they
supply you. You accept a couple of hundred louis; this debt you forget
for two or three years. At the end of that rather long term you bethink
you of paying. What do they do? They hand you back your note of hand
torn up, with all the air of being very glad to have served you. Then,
after all, you turn your back on an undertaking in which they have
embarked their whole fortunes: an affair of a couple of millions is a
trifle unworthy of the attention of a philosopher like you.... But that
is not all. You have a fancy for collecting together different pieces
scattered through the Encyclopædia; nothing can be more opposed to
their interests; they put this to you, you insist, the edition is
produced, they advance the cost, you share the profits. It seemed that,
after having thus twice paid you for their work, they had a right to
look upon it as theirs. Yet you go in search of a bookseller in some
quite different direction, and sell him in a mass what does not belong
to you."

"They gave me a thousand grounds for dissatisfaction."

"_Quelle défaite!_ There are no small things between friends. Everything
weighs, because friendship is a commerce of purity and delicacy; but are
the booksellers your friends? Then your behaviour to them is horrible.
If not, then you have nothing to say against them. If the public were
called upon to judge between you and them, my friend, you would be
covered with shame."

"What, can it be you, Diderot, who thus take the side of the

"My grievances against them do not prevent me from seeing their
grievances against you. After all this show of pride, confess now that
you are cutting a very sorry figure?"[243]

All this was the language of good sense, and there is no evidence that
Diderot ever swerved from that fair and honourable attitude in his own
dealings with the booksellers. Yet he was able to treat them with a
sturdy spirit when they forgot themselves. Panckoucke, one of the great
publishers of the time, came to him one day. "He was swollen with the
arrogance of a parvenu, and thinking apparently that he could use me
like one of those poor devils who depend upon him for a crust of bread,
he permitted himself to fly into a passion; but it did not succeed at
all. I let him go on as he pleased; then I got up abruptly, I took him
by the arm, and I said to him: 'M. Panckoucke, in whatever place it may
be, in the street, in church, in a bad house, and to whomsoever it may
be, it is always right to keep a civil tongue in one's head. But that is
all the more necessary still, when you speak to a man who has as little
patience as I have, and that, too, in his own house. Go to the devil,
you and your work. If you would give me twenty thousand louis, and I
could do your business for you in the twinkling of an eye, I would not
stir a finger. Be kind enough to be off."[244]

Before returning from the author to his books, it is interesting to know
how he and his circle appeared at this period to some who did not belong
to them. Gibbon, for instance, visited Paris in the spring of 1763. "The
moment," he says, "was happily chosen. At the close of a successful war
the British name was respected on the continent; _clarum et venerabile
nomen gentibus_. Our opinions, our fashions, even our games were adopted
in France, a ray of national glory illuminated each individual, and
every Englishman was supposed to be born a patriot and philosopher." He
mentions D'Alembert and Diderot as those among the men of letters whom
he saw, who "held the foremost rank in merit, or at least in fame."[245]

Horace Walpole was often in Paris, and often saw the philosophic
circle, but it did not please his supercilious humour.

     "There was no soul in Paris but philosophers, whom I wished in
     heaven, though they do not wish themselves so. They are so
     overbearing and underbred.... I sometimes go to Baron
     d'Holbach's, but I have left off his dinners, as there was no
     bearing the authors and philosophers and savants of which he
     has a pigeon-house full. They soon turned my head with a
     system of antediluvian deluges which they have invented to
     prove the eternity of matter.... In short, nonsense for
     nonsense, I liked the Jesuits better than the

Hume, as everybody knows, found "the men of letters really very
agreeable; all of them men of the world, living in entire, or almost
entire harmony, among themselves, and quite irreproachable in their
morals." He places Diderot among those whose person and conversation he
liked best.

We have always heard much of the power of the Salon in the eighteenth
century, and it was no doubt a remarkable proof of the incorporation of
intellectual interests in manners, that so many groups of men and women
should have met habitually every week for the purpose of conversing
about the new books and new plays, the fresh principles and fresh ideas,
that were produced by the incessant vivacity of the time. The Salon of
the eighteenth century passed through various phases; its character
shifted with the intellectual mood of the day, but in all its phases it
was an institution in which women occupied a place that they have never
acquired in any society out of France. We are not here called upon to
speculate as to the reasons for this; it is only worth remarking that
Diderot was not commonly at his ease in the society of ladies, and that
though he was a visitor at Madame Geoffrin's and at Mademoiselle
Lespinasse's, yet he was not a constant attendant at any of the famous
circles of which women had made themselves the centre. The reader of
Madame d'Epinay's memoir is informed how hard she found it to tame
Diderot into sociability. "What a pity," she exclaims, "that men of
genius and of such eminent merit as M. Diderot should thus wrap
themselves up in their philosophy, and disdain the homage that people
would eagerly pay them in any society that they would honour with their
presence."[247] One of the soundest social observers of the time was
undoubtedly Duclos. His _Considerations on the Manners of the Century_,
which was published in 1751, abounds in admirable criticism. He makes
two remarks with which we may close our chapter. "The relaxation of
morals does not prevent people from being very loud in praise of honour
and virtue; those who have least of them know very well how much they
are concerned in other people having them." Again, "The French," he
said, "are the only people among whom it is possible for morals to be
depraved, without either the heart being corrupted, or their courage
being weakened."



There is at first something incredible in the account given by some
thinkers of Diderot, as the greatest genius of the eighteenth century;
and perhaps an adjustment of such nice degrees of comparison among the
high men of the world is at no time very profitable. What is intended by
these thoroughgoing panegyrists is that Diderot placed himself at the
point of view whence, more comprehensively than was possible from any
other, he discerned the long course and the many bearings, the complex
faces and the large ramifications, of the huge movement of his day. He
seized the great transition at every point, and grasped all the threads
that were to be inwoven into the pattern of the new time.

Diderot is in a thousand respects one of the most unsatisfactory of men
and of writers. Yet it is hard to deny that to whatever quarter he
turned, he caught the rising illumination and was shone upon by the
spirit of the coming day. It was no copious and overflowing radiance,
but they were the beams of the dawn. Hence, what he has to say, and we
shall soon see how much he said, about the two great arts of painting
and the drama, though it is fragmentary, though it is insufficient, yet
points, as all the rest of his thoughts pointed, along the lines that
the best minds of the western world have since traversed. He would, in
the old metaphysical language, have called the direction of it a turning
to Nature, but if we translate this into more positive terms, just as we
have said that the Encyclopædia was a glorification of pacific industry
and of civil justice, so we may say that his whole theory of the drama
was a glorification of private virtues and domestic life. And the
definite rise of civil justice and industry over feudal privilege and a
life of war, and again the elevation of domestic virtue into the place
formerly held by patriotic devotion, are the two great sides of a single
movement.[248] It is quite true that Diderot and the French of that day
had only a glimpse of the promised land in art and poetry. The whole
moral energy of the generation after Diderot was drawn inevitably into
the strong current of social action. The freshly kindled torch of
dramatic art passed for nearly half a century to the country of Lessing
and Goethe.

There is in the use of a certain kind of abstract language this
inconvenience, that the reader may suppose us to be imputing to Diderot
a deliberate and systematic survey of the whole movement of his time,
and a calculated resolution to further it, now in this way and now in
that. It is not necessary to suppose that the movement as a whole was
always present to him. Diderot's mind was constantly feeling for
explanations; it was never a passive recipient. The drama excited this
alert interest just as everything else excited it. He thought about
that, as about everything else, originally, that is to say, sincerely
and in the spirit of reality.[249] Whoever turns with a clear eye and
proper intellectual capacity in search of the real bearings of what he
is about, is sure to find out the strong currents of the time, even
though he may never consciously throw them into their most general and
abstract expression.

Since Aristotle, said Lessing, no more philosophical mind than Diderot's
has treated of the theatre. Lessing himself translated Diderot's two
plays, and the Essay on Dramatic Poetry, and repeatedly said that
without the impulse of Diderot's principles and illustrations his own
taste would have taken a different direction. As a dramatist, the author
of _Miss Sara Sampson_, of _Emilia Galotti_, and above all that noble
dramatic poem, _Nathan the Wise_, could hardly have owed much to the
author of such poor stuff as _The Natural Son_ and _The Father of the
Family_. Lessing had some dramatic fire, invention, spontaneous
elevation; he had a certain measure, though not a very large one, of
poetic impulse. Diderot had nothing of all these, but he had the eye of
the philosophic critic.

Any one who reads Lessing's dramatic criticisms will see that he did
not at all overrate his obligations to his French contemporary.[250] It
has been replied to the absurd taunt about the French inventing nothing,
that at least Descartes invented German philosophy. Still more true is
it that Diderot invented German criticism.

Diderot's thoughts on the stage, besides his completed plays, and a
number of fragmentary scenes, are contained principally in the Paradox
on the Player, a short treatise on Dramatic Poetry, and three dialogues
appended to _The Natural Son_. On the plays a very few words will
suffice. _The Natural Son_ must, by me at least, be pronounced one of
the most vapid performances in dramatic history. Even Lessing, unwilling
as he was to say a word against a writer who had taught him so much, is
too good a critic not to recognise monotony in the characters, stiffness
and affectation in the dialogue, and a pedantic ring in the sentences of
new-fangled philosophy.[251] Even in the three critical dialogues that
Diderot added to the play, Lessing cannot help discerning the mixture of
superficiality with an almost pompous pretension. Rosenkranz, it is
true, finds the play rich in fine sentences, in scenes full of effect,
in which Diderot's moral enthusiasm expresses itself with impetuous
eloquence. But even he admits that the hero's servant is not so far
wrong when he cries, "_Il semble que le bon sens se soit enfui de cette
maison_," and adds that the whole atmosphere of the piece is sickly with
conscious virtue.[252] For ourselves we are ready for once even to
sympathise with Palissot, the hack-writer of the reactionary parties,
when he says that _The Natural Son_ had neither invention, nor style,
nor characters, nor any other single unit of a truly dramatic work. The
reader who seeks to realise the nullity of the _genre sérieux_ in
Diderot's hands, should turn from _The Natural Son_ to Goldoni's play of
_The True Friend_, from which Diderot borrowed the structure of his
play, following it as narrowly as possible to the end of the third act.
Seldom has transfusion turned a sparkling draught into anything so flat
and vapid. In spite of the applause of the philosophic _claque_, led by
Grimm,[253] posterity has ratified the coldness with which it was
received by contemporaries. _The Natural Son_ was written in 1757, but
it was not until 1771 that the directors of the French Comedy could be
induced to place it on the stage. The actors detested their task, and as
we can very well believe, went sulkily through parts which they had not
even taken the trouble to master.[254] The public felt as little
interest in the piece as the actors had done, and after a single
representation, the play was put aside.

Ill-natured critics compared Diderot's play with Rousseau's opera; they
insisted that _The Natural Son_ and _The Village Conjuror_ were a
couple of monuments of the presumptuous incompetence of the encyclopædic
cabal. The failure of _The Natural Son_ as a drama came after it had
enjoyed considerable success as a piece of literature, for it had been
fourteen years in print. We can only suppose that this success was the
fruit of an unflinching partisanship.

It is a curious illustration of the strength of the current passion for
moral maxims in season and out of season, that one scene which to the
scoffers of that day seemed, as it cannot but seem to everybody to-day,
a climax of absurdity and unbecomingness, was hailed by the party as
most admirable, for no other reason than that it contained a number of
high moralising saws. Constance, a young widow and a model of reason,
takes upon herself to combat the resolution of Dorval not to marry,
after he has led her to suppose that he has a passion for her, and after
a marriage between them has been arranged. "No," he cries, "a man of my
character is not such a husband as befits Constance." Constance begs him
to reassure himself; tells him that he is mistaken; to enjoy
tranquillity, a man must have the approval of his own heart, and perhaps
that of other men, and he can have neither unless he remains at his
post; it is only the wicked who can bear isolation; a tender soul cannot
view the general system of sensible beings without a strong desire that
they should be happy. Dorval, who cuts an extremely sorry figure in
such a scene, exclaims, "Ah, but children! Dorval would have children!
When I think that we are thrown from our very birth into a chaos of
prejudices, extravagances, vices, and miseries, the idea makes me
shudder!"--"Dorval, you are beset by phantoms, and no wonder. The
history of life is so little known, while the appearance of evil in the
universe is so glaring.... Dorval, your daughters will be modest and
good; your sons noble and high-minded; all your children will be
charming.... There is no fear that a cruel soul should ever grow in my
bosom from stock of yours."[255]

We can hardly wonder that players were disgusted, or critics moved to
wicked jests. The counterpart to the scene in which Constance persuades
Dorval that they would be very happy in one case, is the scene in which
Dorval persuades Rosalie that they would be very unhappy in another
case. The situations in themselves may command our approval morally, but
they certainly do not attract our sympathies dramatically. That a woman
should demonstrate to a man in fine sententious language the expediency
of marrying her, is not inconsistent with good sense, but it is
displeasing. When a man tells a woman that, though love draws in one
way, duty draws in the other, we may admire his prudence, but we are
glad when so delicate a business comes to an end. In _The Natural Son_
the latter scene, though very long, is the less disagreeable of the
two. And just as in Diderot's most wordy and tiresome pages we generally
find some one phrase, some epithet, some turn of a sentence whose
freshness or strength or daring reveals a genius, so in this scene we
find a few lines whose energy reminds us that we are not after all in
the hands of some obscure playwright, whose works ought long ago to have
been eaten by moths or burnt by fire. Those lines are a warning against
the temptation so familiar in every age since Paris was a guest in the
halls of Menelaus, to take that fatal resolve, All for love and the
world well lost. "To do wrong," says Dorval, "is to condemn ourselves to
live and to find our pleasure with wrong-doers; it is to pass an
uncertain and troubled life in one long and never-ending lie; to have to
praise with a blush the virtue that we flung behind us; to hear from the
lips of others harsh words for our own action; to seek a little calm in
sophistical systems, that the breath of a single good man scatters to
the winds; to shut ourselves for ever out from the spring of true joys,
the only joys that are virtuous, austere, sublime; and to give ourselves
up, simply as a way of escape from ourselves, to the weariness of those
frivolous diversions in which the day flows away in self-oblivion, and
our life glides slowly from us and loses itself in waste."[256] A very
old story, no doubt; but natural, true, and in its place.

What adds to the flatness of the play is a device which Diderot
introduced on a deliberately adopted principle; we mean the elaborate
setting out of the acting directions. Every movement, every gesture,
every silent pause is written down, and we have the impression less of a
play than of some strangely bald romance. In the versified declamation
which then reigned on the French stage, nothing was left to natural
action, nothing was told by change of position, by movement without
speech, or in short by any means other than discourse. Diderot,
repudiating the conventions of dramatic art, and consulting nature or
reality, saw that there are many scenes in life in which it is more
natural to the personages of the scene to move than to speak, in which
indeed motion is natural, and speech is altogether unnatural. If this be
so in real life, he said, it should be so on the stage, because nothing
passes in the world which may not pass also in the theatre; and as
pantomime, or expression of emotion, feeling, purpose, otherwise than by
speech, has so much to do in life, the dramatist should make abundant
use of pantomime in composing stage-plays. Nor should he trust to the
actor's invention and spontaneous sense of appropriateness. He ought to
write down the pantomime whenever it adds energy or clearness to the
dialogue; when it binds the parts of the dialogue together; when it
consists in a delicate play that is not easily divined; and almost
always he ought to write it down in the opening of a scene. If any one
is inclined to regard this as superfluous, let him try the experiment of
composing a play, and then writing the pantomime, or "business," for
it; he will soon see what follies he commits.[257]

Whatever we may think of the practice of writing the action as well as
the words for the player, nobody would now dispute the wisdom of what
Diderot says as to the part that pantomime fills in the highest kind of
dramatic representation. We must agree with his repeated laments over
the indigence, for purposes of full and adequate expression, of every
language that ever has existed or ever can exist.[258] "My dear master,"
he wrote to Voltaire on the occasion of a performance of _Tancred_, "if
you could have seen Clairon passing across the stage, her knees bending
under her, her eyes closed, her arms falling stiff by her side as if
they were dead; if you heard the cry that she uttered when she perceives
Tancred, you would remain more convinced than ever that silence and
pantomime have sometimes a pathos that all the resources of speech can
never approach."[259] If we wonder that he should have thought it worth
while to lay so much emphasis on what seems so obvious, we have to
remember that it did not seem at all obvious to people who were
accustomed to the substitution of a mannered and symmetrical declamation
for the energetic variety and manifold exuberance of passion and
judgment in the daily lives of men.

We have already seen that even when he wrote the Letter on the Deaf and
Dumb, Diderot's mind was exercised about gesture as a supplement to
discourse. In that Letter he had told a curious story of a bizarre
experiment that he was in the habit of making at the theatre. He used to
go to the highest seats in the house, thrust his fingers into his ears,
and then, to the astonishment of his neighbours, watch the performance
with the sharpest interest. As a constant playgoer, he knew the words of
the plays by heart, and what he sought was to isolate the gesture of the
performers, and to enjoy and criticise that by itself. He kept his ears
tightly stopped, so long as the action and play went well with the words
as he remembered them, and he only listened when some discord in gesture
made him suppose that he had lost his place. The people around him were
more and more amazed as they saw him, notwithstanding his stopped ears,
shed copious tears in the pathetic passages. "They could not refrain
from hazarding questions, to which I answered coldly, 'that everybody
had his own way of listening, and that my way was to stop my ears, so as
to understand better'--laughing within myself at the talk to which my
oddity gave rise, and still more so at the simplicity of some young
people who also put their fingers into their ears to hear after my
fashion, and were quite astonished that the plan did not succeed."[260]
This was an odd and whimsical way of acting on a conviction which lay
deep in Diderot's mind, namely, that language is a very poor,
misleading, and utterly inadequate instrument for representing what it
professes, and what we stupidly suppose it, to represent. Rousseau had
expressed the same kind of feeling when he said that definitions might
be good things, if only we did not employ words in making them.

A curious circumstance is worth mentioning in connection with the Three
Dialogues appended to _The Natural Son_. Diderot informs his readers
that the incidents of _The Natural Son_ had actually occurred in real
life, and that he knew the personages. In the Dialogues it is assumed
that the play had been written by the hero himself, and the hero is the
chief speaker. Not a word is said from which the reader would guess that
Diderot had borrowed the substance of his plot and some of its least
insipid scenes from Goldoni. We can hardly wonder that he was charged
with plagiarism. Yet it was not deliberate, we may be sure. When Diderot
was strongly seized by an idea, outer circumstances were as if they did
not exist. He was swept up into the clouds. "Diderot is a good and
worthy man," wrote Madame Geoffrin to the King of Poland, "but he has
such a bad head, and he is so curiously organised, that he neither sees
nor hears what he does see and hear, as the thing really is; he is
always like a man who is dreaming, and who thinks all that he has
dreamed quite real."[261]

_The Father of the Family_, written in 1758, and first acted in 1761,
is very superior to _The Natural Son_; it even enjoyed a certain
popularity. In Germany it became an established favourite, and in Italy
it was only less popular than a piece of Goldoni's. The French were not
quite so easy to please. In 1761 its reception was undoubtedly
favourable, and it ran for more than a week. In 1769 it was reproduced,
and, according to Diderot's own account, with enthusiasm. "There was a
frightful crowd," he says, "and people hardly remember such a success. I
was surprised at it myself. My friends are at the height of exultation.
My daughter came home intoxicated with wonder and delight." Even Madame
Diderot at length grew ashamed at having to confess that she had not
seen her husband's triumph, and throwing aside her horror of the stage,
was as deeply moved as every one else.[262]

Notwithstanding this satisfactory degree of success, and though it was
performed as late as 1835, the play never struck root in France. It is
indeed a play without any real quality or distinction. "Diderot, in his
plays," said Madame de Staël, "put the affectation of nature in the
place of the affectation of convention."[263] The effect is still more
disagreeable in the first kind of affectation than the second. _The
Father of the Family_ is made more endurable than _The Natural Son_ by a
certain rapidity and fire in the action, and a certain vigour in the
characters of the impetuous son (Saint Albin) and the malignant
brother-in-law (the Commander). But the dialogue is poor, and the Father
of the Family himself is as woolly and mawkish a figure as is usually
made out of benevolent intentions and weak purpose combined. The woes of
the heavy father of the stage, where there is no true pathos, but only a
sentimental version of it, find us very callous. The language has none
of that exquisite grace and flexibility which makes a good French comedy
of own day, a piece by Augier, Sandeau, Feuillet, Sardou, so delightful.
Diderot was right in urging that there is no reason why a play should be
in verse; but then the prose of a play ought to have a point, elegance,
and highly-wrought perfection, which shall fill us with a sense of art,
though not the art of the poet. Diderot not only did not write comedy in
such a style; but he does not even so much as show consciousness that
any difference exists between one kind of prose and another. The blurred
phrases and clipped sentences of what Diderot would have called Nature,
that is to say of real life, are intolerable on the stage. Even he felt
this, for his characters, though their dialogue is without wit or
finish, are still dull and tame of speech, in a different way from that
in which the people whom we may meet are dull and tame. There is an art
of a kind, though of an extremely vapid kind.

Again, though he may be right in contending that there is a serious kind
of comedy as distinct from that gay comedy which is neighbour to
farce--of this we shall see more presently--yet he is certainly wrong
in believing that we can willingly endure five acts of serious comedy
without a single relieving passage of humour. Contrast of character,
where all the characters are realistic and common, is not enough. We
crave contrast in the dramatic point of view. We seek occasional change
of key. That serious comedy should move a sympathetic tear is reasonable
enough; but it is hard to find that it grudges us a single smile. The
result of Diderot's method is that the spectator or the reader speedily
feels that what he has before him substitutes for dramatic fulness and
variety the flat monotony of a homily or a tract. It would be hard to
show that there is no true comedy without laughter--Terence's _Hecyra_,
for instance--but Diderot certainly overlooked what Lessing and most
other critics saw so clearly, that laughter rightly stirred is one of
the most powerful agencies in directing the moral sympathies of the
audience,--the very end that Diderot most anxiously sought.

It is mere waste of time to bestow serious criticism on Diderot's two
plays, or on the various sketches, outlines, and fragments of scenes
with which he amused his very slight dramatic faculty. If we wish to
study the masterpieces of French comedy in the eighteenth century, we
shall promptly shut up the volumes of Diderot, and turn to the ease and
soft gracefulness of Marivaux's _Game of Love and Chance_, to the
forcible and concentrated sententiousness of Piron's _Métromanie_, to
the salt and racy flavour of Le Sage's _Turcaret_. Gresset, again, and
Destouches wrote at least two comedies that were really fit for the
stage, and may be read with pleasure to-day. Neither of these
compliments can fairly be paid to _The Natural Son_ and _The Father of
the Family_. Diderot's plays ought to be looked upon merely as sketchy
illustrations of a favourite theory; as the rough drawings on the black
board with which a professor of the fine arts may accompany a lecture on
oil painting.

One radical part of Diderot's dramatic doctrine is wholly condemned by
modern criticism; and it is the part which his plays were especially
designed to enforce. "It is always," he says, "virtue and virtuous
people that a man ought to have in view when he writes. Oh, what good
would men gain, if all the arts of imitation proposed one common object,
and were one day to unite with the laws in making us love virtue and
hate vice. It is for the philosopher to address himself to the poet, the
painter, the musician, and to cry to them with all his might: _O men of
genius, to what end has heaven endowed you with gifts_? If they listen
to him, speedily will the images of debauch cease to cover the walls of
our palaces; our vices will cease to be the organs of crime; and taste
and manners will gain. Can we believe that the action of two old blind
people, man and wife, as they sought one another in their aged days, and
with tears of tenderness clasped one another's hands and exchanged
caresses on the brink of the grave, so to say--that this would not
demand the same talent, and would not interest me far more than the
spectacle of the violent pleasures with which their senses in all the
first freshness of youth were once made drunk?"[264]

The emphasising moralists of Diderot's school never understood that
virtue may be made attractive, without pulling the reader or the
spectator by the sleeve, and urgently shouting in his ear how attractive
virtue is. When _The Heart of Midlothian_ appeared (1818), a lady wrote
about it as follows: "Of late days, especially since it has been the
fashion to write moral and even religious novels, one might almost say
of the wise good heroines what a lively girl once said of her
well-meaning aunt--'On my word she is enough to make anybody wicked.'
Had this very story been conducted by a common hand, Effie would have
attracted all our concern and sympathy, Jeanie only cold approbation.
Whereas Jeanie, without youth, beauty, genius, warm passions, or any
other novel perfection, is here our object from beginning to end. This
is 'enlisting the affections in the cause of virtue' ten times more than
ever Richardson did; for whose male and female pedants, all excelling as
they are, I never could care half as much as I found myself inclined to
do for Jeanie before I finished the first volume."[265]

In other words, you must win us by kindling our sympathy, not by
formally commanding our moral approval. To kindle sympathy your
personage must be interesting; must touch our pity or wonder or
energetic fellow-feeling or sense of moral loveliness, which is a very
different thing from touching our mere sense of the distinctions between
right and wrong. Direct homily excites no sympathy with the homilist.
Deep pensive meditations on the moral puzzles of the world are not at
all like didactic discourse. But the Father of the Family was exactly
fulfilling Diderot's notion of dramatic purpose and utility when he
talked to his daughter in such a strain as this: "Marriage, my daughter,
is a vocation imposed by nature.... He who counts on bliss without alloy
knows neither the life of man nor the designs of heaven. If marriage
exposes us to cruel pain, it is also the source of the sweetest
pleasures. Where are the examples of pure and heartfelt interest, of
real tenderness, of inmost confidence, of daily help of griefs divided,
of tears mingled, if they be not in marriage? What is there in the world
that the good man prefers to his wife? What is there in the world that a
father loves more dearly than his children? O sacred bond, if I think of
thee, my whole soul is warmed and elevated!"[266]

But these virtuous ejaculations do not warm and elevate us. In such a
case words count for nothing. It is actual presentation of beautiful
character, and not talk about it, that touches the spectator. It is the
association of interesting action with character, that moves us and
inspires such better moods as may be within our compass. Diderot, like
many other people before and since, sought to make the stage the great
moral teacher. That it may become so, is possible. It will not be by
imitating the methods of that colossal type of histrionic failure, the
church-pulpit. Exhortation in set speeches always has been, and always
will be, the feeblest bulwark against the boiling floods of passion that
helpless virtue ever invented, and it matters not at all whether the
hortatory speeches are placed on the lips of Mr. Talkative, the son of
Saywell, or of some tearful dummy labelled the Father of the Family.[267]

Yet one is half ashamed to use hard words about Diderot. He was so
modest about his work, so simple and unpretending, so wholly without
restless and fretting ambitions, and so generous in his judgment of
others. He made his own dramatic experiment, he thought little enough of
it; and he was wholly above the hateful vice of sourly disparaging
competitors, whether dead or living. He knew that he was himself no
master, but he was manly enough to admire anybody who was nearer to
mastery. He was full of unaffected delight at Sedaine's busy and
pleasing little comedy, _The Philosopher without knowing it_; it was so
simple without being stiff, so eloquent without the shadow of effort or
rhetoric. After seeing it, Diderot ran off to the author to embrace him,
with many tears of joyful sympathy and gratitude. Sedaine, like Lillo,
the author of Diderot's favourite play of _George Barn__well_, was a
plain tradesman, and the success of his libretti for comic operas had
not spoiled him. He could find no more expansive words for his excited
admirer than "_Ah, Monsieur Diderot, que vous étes beau_!"[268] Diderot
was just as sensible of the originality and Aristophanic gaiety of
Collé's brilliant play, _Truth in Wine_, though Collé detested the
philosophic school from Voltaire downwards, and left behind him a
bitterly contemptuous account of _The Natural Son_.[269]

Of all comic writers, however, the author of the _Andria_ and the
_Heautontimorumenos_ was Diderot's favourite. The half dozen pages upon
Terence, which he threw off while the printer's boy waited in the
passage (1762), are one of the most easy, flowing, and delightful of his
fragments; there is such appreciation of Terence's suavity and tact, of
his just and fine judgment, of his discrimination and character. He
admits that Terence had no verve; for that he commends the young poet to
Molière or Aristophanes, but as verve was exactly the quality most
wanting to Diderot himself, he easily forgave its absence in Terence,
and thought it amply replaced by his moderation, his truth, and his fine
taste. Colman is praised for translating Terence, for here, says
Diderot, is the lesson of which Colman's countrymen stand most in need.
The English comic writers have more verve than taste. "Vanbrugh,
Wycherley, Congreve, and some others have painted vices and foibles
with vigour; it is not either invention or warmth or gaiety or force
that is wanting to their pencil, but rather that unity in the drawing,
that precision in the stroke, that truth in colouring, which distinguish
portrait from caricature. Especially are they wanting in the art of
discerning and seizing those _naïf_, simple, and yet singular movements
of character, which always please and astonish, and render the imitation
at once true and piquant."[270] Criticism has really nothing to add to
these few lines, and if Diderot in his last years read _The School for
Scandal_, or _The Rivals_, he would have found no reason to alter his

One English play had the honour of being translated by Diderot; this
was _The Gamester_, not _The Gamester_ of Shirley nor of Garrick, but
of Edward Moore (1753). It is a good example of the bourgeois tragedy
or domestic drama, which Diderot was so eager to see introduced on to
the French stage. The infatuation of Beverley, the tears and virtue of
Mrs. Beverley, the prudence of Charlotte and the sage devotion of her
lover, the sympathetic remorse of Bates, and even the desperation of
Stukely, made up a picture of domestic misery and moral sentiment with
which Diderot was sure to fall in love. Lillo's _George Barnwell_, with
its direct and urgent moral, was a still greater favourite, and Diderot
compared the scene between Maria and Barnwell in prison to the despair
of the _Philocletes_ of Sophocles, as the hero is heard shrieking at
the mouth of his cavern;[271] just as a more modern critic has thought
Lillo's other play, _The Fatal Curiosity_, worthy of comparison with
the _Oedipus Tyrannus_.

Diderot's feeling for Shakespeare seems to have been what we might have
anticipated from the whole cast of his temperament. One of the scenes
which delighted him most was that moment of awe, when Lady Macbeth
silently advances down the stage with her eyes closed, and imitates the
action of washing her hands, as wondering that "the old man should have
so much blood in him." "I know nothing," he exclaims, "so pathetic in
discourse as that woman's silence and the movement of her hands. What an
image of remorse!"[272]

It was not to be expected that Diderot should indulge in those
undiscriminating superlatives about Shakespeare which are common in
Shakespeare's country. But he knew enough about him to feel that he was
dealing with a giant. "I will not compare Shakespeare," he said, "to the
Belvedere Apollo, nor to the Gladiator, nor to Antinous"--he had
compared Terence to the Medicean Venus--"but to the Saint Christopher of
Notre Dame, an unshapely colossus, rudely carven, but between whose legs
we could all pass without our brows touching him."[273] Not very
satisfactory recognition perhaps; but the Saint Christopher is better
than Voltaire's drunken savage.

It is not every dramatist who treats the art of acting as seriously as
the art of composition. The great author of _Wilhelm Meister_ is the
most remarkable exception to this rule, and Lessing is only second to
him. It is hardly possible for a man to be a great dramatist, and it is
simply impossible for a man to be a great critic of the drama, who has
not seriously studied the rules, aims, and conditions of stage
representation. Hazlitt, for instance, has written some admirable pages
about the poetry, the imaginative conception, the language, of
Shakespeare's plays, but we find his limit when he says that King Lear
is so noble a play that he cannot bear to see it acted. As if a play
could be fully judged without reference to the conditions of the very
object with which it was written. A play is to be criticised as a play,
not merely as a poem. The whole structure of a piece depends on the fact
that it is to be acted; its striking moments must be great dramatic, not
merely beautiful poetic, moments. They must have the intensity of pitch
by which the effect of action exceeds the effect of narrative. This
intensity is made almost infinitely variable with the variations in the
actor's mastery of his art.

Diderot, who threw so penetrating a glance into every subject that he
touched, even if it were no more than a glance, has left a number of
excellent remarks on histrionics. The key to them all is his everlasting
watchword: _Watch nature, follow her simple, and spontaneous leading_.
The Paradox on the Player is one of the very few of Diderot's pieces of
which we can say that, besides containing vigorous thought, it has real
finish in point of literary form. There is not the flat tone, the heavy
stroke, the loose shamble, that give a certain stamp of commonness to so
many of his most elaborate discussions. In the Paradox the thoughts seem
to fall with rapidity and precision into their right places; they are
direct; they are not overloaded with qualifications; their clear
delivery is not choked by a throng of asides and casual ejaculations.
Usually Diderot writes as if he were loath to let the sentence go, and
to allow the paragraph to come to an end. Here he lays down his
proposition, and without rambling passes on to the next. The effort is
not kept up quite to the close, for the last half dozen pages have the
ordinary clumsy mannerism of their author.

What is the Paradox? That a player of the first rank must have much
judgment, self-possession, and penetration, _but no sensibility_. An
actor with nothing but sense and judgment is apt to be cold; but an
actor with nothing but verve and sensibility is crazy. It is a certain
temperament of good sense and warmth combined, that makes the sublime
player.[274] Why should he differ from the poet, the painter, the
orator, the musician? It is not in the fury of the first impulse that
characteristic strokes occur to any of these men; it is in moments when
they are tranquil and cool, and such strokes come by an unexpected
inspiration.[275] It is for coolness to temper the delirium of
enthusiasm. It is not the violent man who is beside himself that
disposes of us; that is an advantage reserved for the man who possesses
himself. The great poets, the great actors, and perhaps generally all
the great imitators of nature, whatever they may be, are gifted with a
fine imagination, a great judgment, a subtle tact, a sure taste, but
they are creatures of the smallest sensibility. They are equally well
fitted for too many things; they are too busy in looking, in
recognising, and in imitating, to be violently affected within
themselves. Sensibility is hardly the quality of a great genius. He will
have justice; but he will practise it without reaping all the sweetness
of it. It is not his heart, but his head, that does it all. Well, then,
what I insist upon, says Diderot, is that it is extreme sensibility that
makes mediocre actors; it is mediocre sensibility that makes bad actors;
and it is the absolute want of sensibility that prepares actors who
shall be sublime.[276]

This is worked out with great clearness and decision, and some of the
illustrations to which he resorts to lighten the dialogue are amusing
enough. Perhaps the most interesting to us English is his account of
Garrick, whose acquaintance he made towards the year 1765. He says that
he saw Garrick pass his head between two folding doors, and in the space
of a few seconds, his face went successively from mad joy to moderate
joy, from that to tranquillity, from tranquillity to surprise, from
surprise to astonishment, from astonishment to gloom, from gloom to
utter dejection, from dejection to fear, from fear to horror, from
horror to despair, and then reascend from this lowest degree to the
point whence he had started.[277]

Of course his soul felt none of these emotions. "If you asked this
famous man, who by himself was as well worth a journey to England to
see, as all the wonders of Rome are worth a journey to Italy, if you
asked him, I say, for the scene of _The Little Baker's Boy_, he played
it; if you asked him the next minute for the scene from _Hamlet_, he
played that too for you, equally ready to sob over the fall of his pies,
and to follow the path of the dagger in the air."[278]

Apart from the central proposition, Diderot makes a number of excellent
observations which show his critical faculty at its best. As, for
example, in answering the question, what is the truth of the stage? Is
it to show things exactly as they are in nature? By no means. The true
in that sense would only be the common. The really true is the
conformity of action, speech, countenance, voice, movement, gesture,
with an ideal model imagined by the poet, and often exaggerated by the
player. And the marvel is that this model influences not only the tone,
but the whole carriage and gait. Again, what is the aim of multiplied
rehearsals? To establish a balance among the different talents of the
actors. The supreme excellence of one actor does not recompense you for
the mediocrity of the others, which is brought by that very superiority
into disagreeable prominence. Again, accent is easier to imitate than
movement, but movements are what strike us most violently. Hence a law
to which there is no exception, namely, under pain of being cold, to
make your denouement an action and not a narrative.[279]

One of the strongest satires on the reigning dramatic style, Diderot
found in the need that the actor had of the mirror. The fewer gestures,
he said, the better; frequent gesticulation impairs energy and destroys
nobleness. It is the countenance, the eyes, it is the whole body that
ought to move, and not the arms.[280] There is no maxim more forgotten
by poets than that which says that great passions are mute. It depends
on the player to produce a greater effect by silence than the poet can
produce by all his fine speeches.[281] Above all, the player is to study
tranquil scenes, for it is these that are the most truly difficult. He
commends a young actress to play every morning, by way of orisons, the
scene of Athalie with Joas; to say for evensong some scenes of Agrippina
with Nero; and for Benedicite the first scene of Phædra with her
confidante. Especially there is to be little emphasis--a warning
grievously needed by ninety-nine English speakers out of a hundred--for
emphasis is hardly ever natural; it is only a forced imitation of

Diderot had perceived very early that the complacency with which his
countrymen regarded the national theatre was extravagant. He would not
allow a comparison between the conventional classic of the French stage
and the works of the Greek stage. He insisted in the case of the Greeks
that their subjects are noble, well chosen, and interesting; that the
action seems to develop itself spontaneously; that their dialogue is
simple and very close to what is natural; that the dénouements are not
forced; that the interest is not divided nor the action overloaded with
episodes. In the French classic he found none of these merits. He found
none of that truth which is the only secret of pleasing and touching us;
none of that simple and natural movement which is the only path to
perfect and unbroken illusion. The dialogue is all emphasis, wit,
glitter; all a thousand leagues away from nature. Instead of
artificially giving to their characters _esprit_ at every point, poets
ought to place them in such situations as will give it to them. Where in
the world did men and women ever speak as we declaim? Why should princes
and kings walk differently from any man who walks well? Did they then
gesticulate like raving madmen? Do princesses when they speak utter
sharp hissings?

People believe us to have brought tragedy to a high degree of
perfection. It is not so. Of all kinds of literature it is the most

The ideas which appeared thus incongruously in the tales of 1748
reappeared in the direct essays on the drama in 1757 and 1758. We have
left nothing undone, he said, to corrupt dramatic style. We have
preserved from the ancients that emphasis of versification which was so
well fitted to languages of strong quantity and marked accent, to vast
theatres, to a declamation that had an instrumental accompaniment; and
then we have given up simplicity of plot and dialogue, and all truth of
situation.[284] La Motte nearly fifty years before had attacked the
pseudo-classic drama. He had inveighed against the unities, against long
monologues, against the device of confidants, and against verse. His
assault, in which he had the powerful aid of Fontenelle, was part of
that battle between Moderns and Ancients with which the literary
activity of the century had opened. The brilliant success of the
tragedies of Voltaire had restored the lustre of the conventional drama,
though Voltaire infused an element of the romantic under the severity of
the old forms. But the drama had become even less like Sophocles and
Euripides in _Zaïre_ than in _Phédre_ or _Iphigénie_. Voltaire intended
to constitute the French drama into an independent form. He expected to
be told that he was not like Sophocles, and he did not abstain from some
singularly free railing against Euripides. The Greek pieces often
smacked too much of the tone of the fair to satisfy him; they were too
familiar and colloquial for a taste that had been made fastidious by the
court-pieces of Lewis XIV. Diderot was kept free from such deplorable
criticism as this by feeling that the Greek drama was true to the
sentiment of the age that gave it birth, and that the French drama, if
not in the hands of Racine, still even in the hands of Voltaire, and
much more in the hands of such men as Lagrange-Chancel and the elder
Crébillon, was true to no sentiment save one purely literary,
artificial, and barren. He insists on the hopelessness of the stage,
unless men prepared themselves at every part for a grand return to
nature. We have seen what is his counsel to the actor. He preaches in
the same key to the scene-painter and the maker of costumes.
Scene-painting ought to be more rigorously true than any other kind of
picture. Let there be no distraction, no extraneous suggestion, to
interfere with the impression intended by the poet. Have you a salon to
represent? Let it be that of a man of taste and no more: no ostentation
and no gilding, unless the situation expressly demands the contrary.

In the dresses the same rule holds good. Under robes that are overladen
with gold lace, I only see a rich man; what I want to see is a man.
Pretty and simple draperies of severe tints are what we need, not a
mass of tinsel and embroidery. "A courageous actress has just got rid of
her panier, and nobody has found her any the worse for it. Ah, if she
only dared one day to show herself on the stage with all the nobility
and simplicity of adjustment that her characters demand; nay, in the
disorder into which she would be thrown by an event so terrible as the
death of a husband, the loss of a son, and the other catastrophes of the
tragic stage, what would become, round her dishevelled figure, of all
those powdered, curled, frizzled, tricked-out creatures? Sooner or later
they must put themselves in unison. O nature, nature! We can never
resist her."[285]

From all this we turn, for a few moments only, and not too cheerfully,
to the Serbonian bog of dramatic rules and the metaphysics of the
theatre. There is no subject in literature, not even the interpretation
of the Apocalypse, which has given birth to such pedantic, dismal, and
futile discussion. The immense controversy, carried on in books,
pamphlets, sheets and flying articles, mostly German, as to what it was
that Aristotle really meant by the famous words in the sixth chapter of
the _Poetics_, about tragedy accomplishing the purification of our moods
of pity and sympathetic fear, is one of the disgraces of human
intelligence, a grotesque monument of sterility. The great tap-root of
fallacy has been and remains the incessant imputation of ethical or
social purpose to the dramatist, and the demand of direct and combined
ethical or social effect from the drama. There is no critic, from the
great Aristotle downwards, who has steered quite clear of these evil
shallows; Diderot, as we have seen, least of all. But Diderot disarms
the impatience which narrower critics kindle, by this magnificent
concession, coming at the close of all: "Especially remember that _there
is no general principle;_ I do not know a single one of those that I
have indicated which a man of genius cannot infringe with success."[286]
Here we listen to the voice of the genuine Diderot; and if this be
granted, we need not give more than a passing attention to the rules
that have gone before--about the danger of borrowing in the same
composition the shades both of the comic and of the tragic styles; about
movement being injurious to dignity, and of the importance therefore of
not making the principal personage the _machinist_ of the piece; about
the inexpediency of episodic personages--and so forth. The only remark
worth making on these propositions is that, whatever their value may be,
Diderot at any rate, like a true philosopher, generalised from the facts
of nature and art. He did not follow the too common critical method of
reading one's own ideas into a work of art, and then taking them back
again in the more imposing form of inevitable deductions from the work

What Diderot conceived himself really to have done, was to have sketched
and constituted a new species in the great dramatic kingdom. Every one
knows, he said, that there is tragedy and that there is comedy, but we
have to learn that there is room in nature and the art of the stage for
a third division, namely, the _genre sérieux_, a kind of comedy that has
for its object virtue and the duties of man. Why should the writer of
comedy confine his work to what is vicious or ridiculous in men? Why
should not the duties of men furnish the dramatist with as ample
material as their vices? Surely in the _genre honnête et sérieux_ the
subject is as important as in gay comedy. The characters are as varied
and as original. The passions are all the more energetic as the interest
will be greater. The style will be graver, loftier, more forcible, more
susceptible of what we call sentiment, a quality without which no style
ever yet spoke to the heart. The ridiculous will not be absent, for the
madness of actions and speeches, when they are suggested by the
misunderstanding of interests or by the transport of passion, is the
truly ridiculous thing in men and in life.[287]

Besides his own two pieces, Diderot would probably have pointed to
Terence as the author coming nearest to the _genre sérieux_. If Goethe's
bad play of _Stella_ had retained the close as he originally wrote it,
with the bigamous Fernando in the last scene rejoicing over the devoted
agreement of the two ladies and his daughter to live with him in happy
unity, that would perhaps have been a comedy of the _genre sérieux_,
with the duties of man gracefully adapted to circumstances.

The theory of the _genre sérieux_ has not led to the formation of any
school of writers adopting it and working it out, or to the production
of any masterpiece that has held its ground, as has happened in tragedy,
comedy, and farce. Beaumarchais, who at last achieved such a dazzling
and portentous success by one dramatic masterpiece, began his career as
a playwright by following the vein of _The Father of the Family;_ but
_The Marriage of Figaro_, though not without strong traces of Diderotian
sentiment in pungent application, yet is in its structure and
composition less French than Spanish. It is quite true, as Rosenkranz
says, that the prevailing taste on the French stage in our own times
favours above all else bourgeois romantic comedy, written in prose.[288]
But the strength of the romantic element in them would have been as
little satisfactory to Diderot's love of realistic moralising as the
conventional tragedy of the court of Lewis XIV. The Fable of most of
them turns on adultery, and this is not within the method of the _genre
sérieux_ as expounded by Diderot. Perhaps half a dozen comedies, such,
for instance, as _The Ideas of Madame Aubray,_ by M. Dumas, are of the
_genre sérieux_, but certainly there are not enough of such comedies to
constitute a genuine Diderotian school in France. There is no need
therefore to say more about the theory than this, namely, that though
the drama is an imitative art, yet besides imitation its effects demand
illusion. What, cries Diderot, you do not conceive the effect that would
be produced on you by a real scene, with real dresses, with speech in
true proportion to the action, with the actions themselves simple, with
the very dangers that have made you tremble for your parents, for your
friends, for yourselves? No, we answer: reproduction of reality does not
move us as a powerful work of imagination moves us. "We may as well
urge," said Burke, "that stones, sand, clay, and metals lie in a certain
manner in the earth, as a reason for building with these materials and
in that manner, as for writing according to the accidental disposition
of characters in Nature."[289] Common dangers do not excite us; it is
the presentation of danger in some uncommon form, in some new
combination, in some fresh play of motive and passion, that quickens
that sympathetic fear and pity which it is the end of a play to produce.
And if this be so, there is another thing to be said. If we are to be
deliberately steeped in the atmosphere of Duty, illusion is out of
place. The constant presence of that severe and overpowering figure,
"Stern Daughter of the Voice of God," checks the native wildness of
imagination, restricts the exuberance of fancy, and sets a rigorous
limit to invention. Diderot used to admit that the _genre sérieux_ could
never take its right place until it had been handled by a man of high
dramatic genius. The cause why this condition has never come to pass is
simply that its whole structure and its regulations repel the faculties
of dramatic genius.

Besides the perfection of the _genre sérieux_, Diderot insisted that the
following tasks were also to be achieved before the stage could be said
to have attained the full glory of the other arts. First, a domestic or
bourgeois tragedy must be created. Second, the conditions of men, their
callings and situations, the types of classes, in short, must be
substituted for mere individual characters. Third, a real tragedy must
be introduced upon the lyric theatre. Finally, the dance must be brought
within the forms of a true poem.

The only remark to be made upon this scheme touches the second article
of it. To urge the substitution of types of classes for individual
character was the very surest means that could have been devised for
bringing back the conventional forms of the pseudo-classic drama. The
very mark of that drama was that it introduced types instead of
vigorously stamped personalities. What would be gained by driving the
typical king off the stage, only to make room for the generalisation of
a shopkeeper? This was not the path that led to romanticism, to André
Chenier, to De Vigny, to Lamartine, to Victor Hugo. Théophile Gautier
has told us that the fiery chiefs of the romantic school who suddenly
conquered France at the close of the Restoration, divided the whole
world into _flamboyant_ and _drab_. In the literature of the past they
counted Voltaire one of the Drab, and Diderot a Flamboyant.[290] If it
be not too presumptuous in a foreigner to dissent, we cannot but think
that they were mistaken. Nothing could be farther removed at every part
from Diderot's dramatic scheme, than _Faust_ or _Götz von Berlichingen_
or _Hernani_.

The truth is that it was impossible for an effective antagonism to the
classic school to rise in the mind of an Encyclopædist, for the reason
that the Encyclopædists hated and ignored what they called the Dark
Ages. Yet it was exactly the Dark Ages from which the great romantic
revival drew its very life-breath. "In the eighteenth century," it has
been said, "it was really the reminiscence of the classic spirit which
was awakened in the newer life of Europe, and made prominent."[291] This
is true in a certain historic sense of Rousseau's politics, and perhaps
of Voltaire's rationalism. In spite of the vein of mysticism which
occasionally shows in him, it is true in some degree of Diderot himself,
if by classicism we mean the tendency to make man the centre of the
universe. Classicism treats man as worthy and great, living his life
among cold and neutral forces. This is the very opposite of the
sinfulness, imperfection, and nothingness habitually imputed to man, and
the hourly presence of a whole hierarchy of busy supernatural agents
placed about man by the Middle Ages. Yet we cannot but see that Diderot
was feeling for dramatic forms and subjects that would have been as
little classic as romantic. He failed in the search. There is one play
and only one of his epoch that is not classic, and is not romantic, but
speaks independently the truest and best mind of the eighteenth century
itself, in its own form and language. That play is _Nathan the Wise_.



In hypochondriacal moments, it has been said, the world, viewed from the
æsthetic side, appears to many a one a cabinet of caricatures; from the
intellectual side, a madhouse; and from the moral side, a harbouring
place for rascals.[292] We might perhaps extend this saying beyond the
accidents of hypochondriasis, and urge that the few wide, profound, and
real observers of human life have all known, and known often, this
fantastic consciousness of living in a strange distorted universe of
lunatics, knaves, grotesques. It is an inevitable mood to any who dare
to shake the kaleidoscopic fragments out of their conventional and
accepted combination. Who does not remember deep traces of such a mood
in Plato, Shakespeare, Pascal, Goethe? And Diderot, who went near to
having something of the deep quality of those sovereign spirits, did not
escape, any more than they, the visitation of the misanthropic spectre.
The distinction of the greater minds is that they have no temptation to
give the spectre a permanent home with them, as is done by theologians
in order to prove the necessity of grace and another world, or by
cynics in order to prove the wisdom of selfishness in this world. The
greater minds accept the worse facts of character for what they are
worth, and bring them into a right perspective with the better facts.
They have no expectation of escaping all perplexities, nor of hitting on
answers to all the moral riddles of the world. Yet are they ever drawn
by an invincible fascination to the feet of the mighty Sphinx of
society. She bewilders them with questions that are never overheard by
common ears, and torments them with a mockery that is unobserved by
common eyes. The energetic--a Socrates, a Diderot--cannot content
themselves with merely recording her everlasting puzzles; still less
with merely writing over again the already recorded answers. They insist
on scrutinising the moral world afresh; they resolve the magniloquent
vocabulary of abstract ethics into the small realities from which it has
come; they break the complacent repose of opinion and usage by a graphic
irony. "The definitions of moral beings," said Diderot, "are always made
from what such beings ought to be, and never from what they are. People
incessantly confound duty with the thing as it is."[293] We shall
proceed to give a short account of one or two dialogues in which he
endeavours to keep clear of this confusion.

By far the most important of these is _Rameau's Nephew_. The fortunes
of this singular production are probably unique in literary history. In
the year 1804 Schiller handed to Goethe the manuscript of a piece by
Diderot, with the wish that he might find himself able to translate it
into German. "As I had long," says Goethe, "cherished a great regard
for this author, I cheerfully undertook the task, after looking through
the original. People can see, I hope, that I threw my whole soul into
it."[294] When he had done his work, he returned the manuscript to
Schiller. Schiller died almost immediately (May 1805), and the
mysterious manuscript disappeared. Goethe could never learn either
whence it had come, or whither it went. He always suspected that the
autograph original had been sent to the Empress Catherine at St.
Petersburg, and that Schiller's manuscript was a copy from that. Though
Goethe had executed his translation, as he says, "not merely with
readiness but even with passion," the violent and only too just hatred
then prevailing in Germany for France and for all that belonged to
France, hindered any vogue which _Rameau's Nephew_ might otherwise have
had. On the eve of Austerlitz and of Jena there might well be little
humour for a satire from the French.

Thirteen years afterwards an edition of Diderot's works appeared in
Paris (Belin's edition of 1818), but the editors were obliged to content
themselves, for _Rameau's Nephew_, with an analysis of Goethe's
translation. In 1821 a lively sensation was produced by the publication
of what professed to be the original text of the missing dialogue. It
was really a retranslation into French from Goethe. The fraud was not
discovered for some time, until in 1823 Brière announced for his edition
of Diderot's works a reprint from a genuine original. This original he
had procured from Madame de Vandeul, Diderot's daughter, who still
survived. She described it as a copy made in 1760 under the author's own
eyes, and this may have been the case, though, if so, it must, from some
of the references, have been revised after 1773. The two young men who
had tried to palm off their retranslation from Goethe as Diderot's own
text, at once had the effrontery to accuse Brière and Diderot's daughter
of repeating their own fraud. A vivacious dispute followed between the
indignant publisher and his impudent detractors. At length Brière
appealed to the great Jove of Weimar. Goethe expressed his conviction
that Brière's text was the genuine text of the original, and this was
held to settle the question. Yet Goethe's voucher for its correspondence
with the copy handed to him by Schiller was not really decisive
evidence. He admits that he executed the translation very rapidly, and
had no time to compare it closely with the French. An identification
nearly twenty years afterwards of verbal resemblances and minute
references, in a work that had been only a short time in his hands,
cannot be counted testimony of the highest kind. We have thus the
extraordinary circumstance that for a great number of years, down almost
to the present decade, the text of the one masterpiece of a famous man
who died so recently as 1784 rested on a single manuscript, and that a
manuscript of disputed authenticity.[295]

Critics differ extremely in their answers to the question of the subject
or object of Diderot's singular "farce-tragedy." One declares it to be
merely a satirical picture of contemporary manners. Another insists that
it is meant to be an ironical _reductio ad absurdum_ of the theory of
self-interest, by exhibiting a concrete example of its working in all
its grossness. A third holds that it was composed by way of rejoinder to
Palissot's comedy _(Les Philosophes_), 1760, which had brought the
chiefs of the rationalistic school upon the stage, and presented them as
enemies of the human race. A fourth suspects that the personal and
dramatic portions are no more than a setting for the discussion of the
comparative merits of the French and Italian schools of music. The true
answer is that the dialogue is all of these things, because it is none
of them. It is neither more nor less than the living picture and account
of an original, drawn by a man of genius who was accustomed to observe
human nature and society with a free unblinking vision, and to meditate
upon them deeply and searchingly.

Diderot goes to work with Rameau in some sort and to a certain extent
as Shakespeare went to work with Falstaff. He is the artist, reproducing
with the variety and perfection of art a whimsical figure that struck
his fancy and stirred the creative impulse. Ethics, æsthetics, manners,
satire, are all indeed to be found in the dialogue, but they are only
there as incident to the central figure of the sketch, the prodigy of
parasites. Diderot had no special fondness for these originals. Yet he
had a keen and just sense of their interest. "Their character stands out
from the rest of the world, it breaks that tiresome uniformity which our
bringing up, our social conventions, and our arbitrary fashions have
introduced. If one of them makes his appearance in a company, he is like
leaven, fermenting and restoring to each person present a portion of his
natural individuality. He stirs people up, moves them, provokes to
praise or blame: he is a means of bringing out reality; gives honest
people a chance of showing what they are made of, and unmasks the

Hearing that the subject of Diderot's dialogue is the Parasite, the
scholar will naturally think of that savage satire in which Juvenal
rehearses the thousand humiliations that Virro inflicts on Trebius: how
the wretched follower has to drink fiery stuff from broken crockery,
while the patron quaffs of the costliest from splendid cups of amber and
precious stones; how the host has fine oil of Venafrum, while the guest
munches cabbage that has been steeped in rancid lamp-oil; one plays
daintily with mullet and lamprey, while the other has his stomach turned
by an eel as long as a snake, and bloated in the foul torrent of the
sewers; Virro has apples that might have come from the gardens of the
Hesperides, while Trebius gnaws such musty things as are tossed to a
performing monkey on the town wall. But the distance is immeasurable
between Juvenal's scorching truculence and Diderot's half-ironical,
half-serious sufferance. Juvenal knows that Trebius is a base and abject
being; he tells him what he is; and in the process blasts him. Diderot
knows that Rameau too is base and abject, but he is so little willing to
rest in the fat and easy paradise of conventions, that he seems to be
all the time vaguely wondering in his own mind how far this genius of
grossness and paradox and bestial sophism is a pattern of the many, with
the mask thrown off. He seems to be inwardly musing whether it can after
all be true, that if one draws aside a fold of the gracious outer robe
of conformity, there is no comeliness of life shining underneath, but
only this horror of the skeleton and the worm. He restrains exasperation
at the brilliant effrontery of his man, precisely as an anatomist would
suppress disgust at a pathological monstrosity, or an astonishing
variation in which he hoped to surprise some vital secret. Rameau is not
crudely analysed as a vile type: he is searched as exemplifying on a
prodigious scale elements of character that lie furtively in the depths
of characters that are not vile. It seems as if Diderot unconsciously
anticipated that terrible, that woful, that desolating saying,--_There
is in every man and woman something which, if you knew it, would make
you hate them_. Rameau is not all parasite. He is your brother and mine,
a product from the same rudimentary factors of mental composition, a
figure cast equally with ourselves in one of the countless moulds of the
huge social foundry.

Such is the scientific attitude of mind towards character: It is not
philanthropic nor pitiful: the fact that base characters exist and are
of intelligible origin is no reason why we should not do our best to
shun and to extirpate them. This assumption of the scientific point of
view, this change from mere praise and blame to scrutiny, this
comprehension that mere execration is not the last word, is a mark of
the modern spirit. Besides Juvenal, another writer of genius has shown
us the parasite of an ancient society. Lucian, whose fertility, wit,
invention, mockery, freshness of spirit, and honest hatred of false
gods, make him the Voltaire of the second century, has painted with all
his native liveliness more than one picture of the parasite. The great
man's creature at Rome endures exactly the same long train of affronts
and humiliations as the great man's creature at Paris sixteen centuries
later, beginning with the anguish of the mortified stomach, as savoury
morsels of venison or boar are given to more important guests, and
ending with the anguish of the mortified spirit, as he sees himself
supplanted by a rival of shapelier person, a more ingenious versifier, a
cleverer mountebank. The dialogue in which Lucian ironically proves
that Parasitic, or the honourable craft of Spunging, has as many of the
marks of a genuine art as Rhetoric, Gymnastic, or Music, is a spirited
parody of Socratic catechising and Platonic mannerisms. Simo shows to
Tychiades, as ingeniously as Rameau shows to Diderot, that the Spunger
has a far better life of it, and is a far more rational and consistent
person than the orator and the philosopher.[297] Lucian's satire is
vivid, brilliant, and diverting. Yet every one feels that Diderot's
performance, while equally vivid, is marked by greater depth of spirit;
comes from a soil that has been more freely broken up, and has been
enriched by a more copious experience. The ancient turned upon these
masterpieces of depravation the flash of intellectual scorn; the modern
eyes them with a certain moral patience, and something of that curious
kind of interest, looking half like sympathy, which a hunter has for the
object of his chase.

The Rameau of the dialogue was a real personage, and there is a dispute
whether Diderot has not calumniated him. Evidence enough remains that he
was at least a person of singular character and irregular disastrous
life. Diderot's general veracity of temperament would make us believe
that his picture is authentic, but the interest of the dialogue is
exactly the same in either case. Juvenal's fifth satire would be worth
neither more nor less, however much were found out about Trebius.

"Rameau is one of the most eccentric figures in the country, where God
has not made them lacking. He is a mixture of elevation and lowness, of
good sense and madness; the notions of good and bad must be mixed up
together in strange confusion in his head, for he shows the good
qualities that nature has bestowed on him without any ostentation, and
the bad ones without the smallest shame. For the rest, he is endowed
with a vigorous frame, a particular warmth of imagination, and an
uncommon strength of lungs. If you ever meet him, unless you happen to
be arrested by his originality, you will either stuff your fingers into
your ears or else take to your heels. Heavens, what a monstrous pipe!
Nothing is so little like him as himself. One time he is lean and wan,
like a patient in the last stage of consumption: you could count his
teeth through his cheeks; you would say he must have passed some days
without tasting a morsel, or that he is fresh from La Trappe. A month
after, he is stout and sleek as if he had been sitting all the time at
the board of a financier, or had been shut up in a Bernardine monastery.
To-day in dirty linen, his clothes torn and patched, with barely a shoe
to his foot, he steals along with a bent head; one is tempted to hail
him and toss him a shilling. To-morrow, all powdered, curled, in a good
coat, he marches about with head erect and open mien, and you would
almost take him for a decent worthy creature. He lives from day to day,
from hand to mouth, downcast or sad, just as things may go. His first
care of a morning when he gets up is to know where he will dine; after
dinner, he begins to think where he may pick up a supper. Night brings
disquiets of its own. Either he climbs to a shabby garret he has, unless
the landlady, weary of waiting for her rent, has taken the key away from
him; or else he shrinks to some tavern on the outskirts of the town,
where he waits for daybreak over a crust of bread and a mug of beer.
When he has not threepence in his pocket, as sometimes happens, he has
recourse either to a hackney-carriage belonging to a friend, or to a
coachman of some man of quality, who gives him a bed on the straw beside
the horses. In the morning he still has bits of the mattress in his
hair. If the weather is mild, he measures the Champs Elysées all night
long. With the day he reappears in the town, dressed over night for the
morrow, and from the morrow sometimes dressed for the rest of the week."

Diderot is accosted by this curious being one afternoon on a bench in
front of the Café de la Régence in the Palais Royal. They proceed in the
thoroughly natural and easy manner of interlocutors in a Platonic
dialogue. It is not too much to say that _Rameau's Nephew_ is the most
effective and masterly use of that form of discussion since Plato.
Diderot's vein of realism is doubtless in strong contrast with Plato's
poetic and idealising touch. Yet imaginative strokes are not wanting to
soften the repulsive theme, and to bring the sordid and the foul within
the sphere of art. For an example. "Time has passed," says Rameau, "and
that is always so much gained."

"_I._--So much lost, you mean.

"_He._--No, no; gained. People grow rich every moment; a day less to
live, or a crown piece to the good, 'tis all one. When the last moment
comes, one is as rich as another. Samuel Bernard, who by pillaging and
stealing and playing bankrupt, leaves seven-and-twenty million francs in
gold, is no better than Rameau, who leaves not a penny, and will be
indebted to charity for a shroud to wrap about him. The dead man hears
not the tolling of the bell; 'tis in vain that a hundred priests bawl
dirges for him, in vain that a long file of blazing torches go before.
His soul walks not by the side of the master of the funeral ceremonies.
To moulder under marble, or to moulder under clay, 'tis still to
moulder. To have around one's bier children in red and children in blue,
or to have not a creature, what matters it?"

These are the gleams of the _mens divinior_, that relieve the perplexing
moral squalor of the portrait. Even here we have the painful innuendo
that a thought which is solemnising and holy to the noble, serves
equally well to point a trait of cynical defiance in the ignoble.

Again, there is an indirectly imaginative element in the sort of terror
which the thoroughness of the presentation inspires. For indeed it is an
emotion hardly short of terror that seizes us, as we listen to the
stringent unflinching paradox of this heterogeneous figure. Rameau is
the squalid and tattered Satan of the eighteenth century. He is a
Mephistopheles out at elbows, a Lucifer in low water; yet always
diabolic, with the bright flash of the pit in his eye. Disgust is
transformed into horror and affright by the trenchant confidence of his
spirit, the daring thoroughness and consistency of his dialectic, the
lurid sarcasm, the vile penetration. He discusses a horrible action, or
execrable crime, as a virtuoso examines a statue or a painting. He has
that rarest fortitude of the vicious, not to shrink from calling his
character and conduct by their names. He is one of Swift's Yahoos, with
the courage of its opinions. He seems to give one reason for hating and
dreading oneself. The effect is of mixed fear and fascination, as of a
magician whose miraculous crystal is to show us what and how we shall
be twenty years from now; or as when a surgeon tells the tale of some
ghastly disorder, that may at the very moment be stealthily preparing
for us a doom of anguish.

Hence our dialogue is assuredly no "meat for little people nor for
fools." Some of it is revolting in its brutal indecency. Even Goethe's
self-possession cannot make it endurable to him. But it is a study to be
omitted by no one who judges the corruption of the old society in France
an important historic subject. The picture is very like the corruption
of the old society in Rome. We see the rotten material which the
purifying flame of Jacobinism was soon to consume out of the land with
fiery swiftness. We watch the very classes from which, as we have been
so often told, the regeneration of France would have come, if only
demagogues and rabble had not violently interposed. There is no gaiety
in the style; none of that laughter which makes such a delineation of
the manners of the time as we find in Collé's play of _Truth in Wine_,
_naïf_, true to nature, and almost exhilarating. In _Rameau_ we are
afflicted by the odour of deadly taint.

As the dialogue is not in every hand--nor could any one wish that it
should be--I have thought it worth while to print an English rendering
of a considerable part of it in an appendix. Mr. Carlyle told us long
ago that it must be translated into English, and although such a piece
of work is less simple than it may seem, it appears right to give the
reader an opportunity of judging for himself of the flavour of the most
characteristic of all Diderot's performances. Only let no reader turn to
it who has any invincible repugnance to that curious turn for
_wildbret_, which Goethe has described as the secret of some arts.

    Dixeris hæc inter varicosos centuriones,
    Continuo crassum ridet Pulfenius ingens
    Et centum Græcos curto centusse licebit.

As I have already said, it must be judged as something more than a
literary diversion. "You do not suspect, Sir Philosopher," says Rameau,
"that at this moment I represent the most important part of the town and
the court." As the painter of the picture says, Rameau confessed the
vices that he had, and that most of the people about us have; but he was
no hypocrite. He was neither more nor less abominable than they; he was
only more frank and systematic and profound in his depravity. This is
the social significance of the dialogue. This is what, apart from other
considerations, makes _Rameau's Nephew_ so much more valuable a guide to
the moral sentiment of the time than merely licentious compositions like
those of Louvet or La Olos. Its instructiveness is immense to those who
examine the conditions that prepared the Revolution. Rameau is not the
[Greek: akolastos] of Aristotle, nor the creature of [Greek: aponoia]
described by Theophrastus--the castaway by individual idiosyncrasy, the
reprobate by accident. The men whom he represented, the courtiers, the
financiers, the merchants, the shopkeepers, were immoral by formula and
depraved on principle. Vice was a doctrine to them, and wretchlessness
of unclean living was reduced to a system of philosophy. Any one, I
venture to repeat, who realises the extent to which this had corroded
the ruling powers in France, will perceive that the furious flood of
social energy which the Jacobins poured over the country was not less
indispensable to France than the flood of the barbarians was
indispensable for the transformation of the Roman Empire.

Scattered among the more serious fragments of the dialogue is some
excellent by-play of sarcasm upon Palissot, and one or two of the other
assailants of the new liberal school. Palissot is an old story. The
Palissots are an eternal species. The family never dies out, and it
thrives in every climate. All societies know the literary dangler in
great houses, and the purveyor to fashionable prejudices. Not that he is
always servile. The reader, I daresay, remembers that La Bruyère
described a curious being in Troilus, the despotic parasite. Palissot,
eighteenth century or nineteenth century, is often like Troilus,
parasite and tyrant at the same time. He usually happens to have begun
life with laudable aspirations and sincere interests of his own; and
when, alas, the mediocrity of his gifts proves too weak to bear the
burden of his ambitions, the recollection of a generous youth only
serves to sour old age.

    Bel esprit abhorré de tous les bons esprits,
    Il pense par la haine échapper au mépris.
    A force d'attentats il se croit illustré;
    Et s'il n'était méchant, il serait ignoré.

Palissot began with a tragedy. He proceeded to an angry pamphlet
against the Encyclopædists and the fury for innovation. Then he achieved
immense vogue among fine ladies, bishops, and the lighter heads of the
town, by the comedy in which he held Diderot, D'Alembert, and the
others, up to hatred and ridicule. Finally, after coming to look upon
himself as a serious personage, he disappeared into the mire of
half-oblivious contempt and disgust that happily awaits all the poor
Palissots and all their works. His name only survives in connection with
the men whom he maligned. He lived to be old, as, oddly enough, Spite so
often does. In the Terror he had a narrow escape, for he was brought
before Chaumette. Chaumette apostrophised the assailant of Rousseau and
Diderot with rude energy, but did not send him to the guillotine. In
this the practical disciple only imitated the magnanimity of his
theoretical masters. Rousseau had declined an opportunity of punishing
Palissot's impertinences, and Diderot took no worse vengeance upon him
than by making an occasional reference of contempt to him in a dialogue
which he perhaps never intended to publish.

Another subject is handled in _Rameau's Nephew,_ which is interesting in
connection with the mental activity of Paris in the eighteenth century.
Music was the field of as much passionate controversy as theology and
philosophy. The Bull Unigenitus itself did not lead to livelier
disputes, or more violent cabals, than the conflict between the
partisans of French music and the partisans of Italian music. The
horror of a Jansenist for a Molinist did not surpass that of a Lullist
for a Dunist, or afterwards of a Gluckist for a Piccinist.[298] Lulli
and Rameau (the uncle of our parasite) had undisputed possession of
Paris until the arrival, in 1752, of a company of Italian singers. The
great quarrel at once broke out as to the true method and destination of
musical composition. Is music an independent art, appealing directly to
a special sense, or is it to be made an instrument for expressing
affections of the mind in a certain deeper way? The Italians asked only
for delicious harmonies and exquisite melodies. The French insisted that
these should be subordinate to the work of the poet. The former were
content with delight, the latter pressed for significance. The one
declared that Italian music was no better than a silly tickling of the
ears; the other that the overture to a French opera was like a prelude
to a Miserere in plain-song. In 1772-73 the illustrious Gluck came to
Paris. His art was believed to reconcile the two schools, to have more
melody than the old French style, and more severity and meaning than the
purely Italian style. French dignity was saved. But soon the old battle,
which had been going on for twenty years, began to rage with greater
violence than ever. Piccini was brought to Paris by the Neapolitan
ambassador. The old cries were heard in a shriller key than before.
Pamphlets, broadsheets, sarcasms flew over Paris from every side.

Was music only to flatter the ear, or was it to paint the passions in
all their energy, to harrow the soul, to raise men's courage, to form
citizens and heroes? The coffee-houses were thrown into dire confusion,
and literary societies were rent by fatal discord. Even dinner-parties
breathed only constraint and mistrust, and the intimacies of a lifetime
came to cruel end. _Rameau's Nephew_ was composed in the midst of the
first part of this long campaign of a quarter of a century, and its
seems to have been revised by its author in the midst of the second
great episode. Diderot declares against the school of Rameau and Lulli.
That he should do so was a part of his general reaction in favour of
what he called the natural, against the artifice and affectation. Goethe
has pointed out the inconsistency between Diderot's sympathy for the
less expressive kind of music, and his usual vehement passion for the
expressive in art. He truly observes that Diderot's sympathy went in
this way, because the novelty and agitation seemed likely to break up
the old, stiff, and abhorred fashion, and to clear the ground afresh for
other efforts.[299]


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_. FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: _Oeuv._, xviii. 505.]

[Footnote 2: _Oeuv._, xviii. 364.]

[Footnote 3: _Ib._ 379.]

[Footnote 4: _Oeuv._, i. 30.]

[Footnote 5: _Wahlverwandschaften_, pt. ii. ch. vii. The reader will do
well to consult the philosophical estimate of the function of the man of
letters given by Comte, _Philosophie Positive_, v. 512, vi. 192, 287.
The best contemporary account of the principles and policy of the men of
letters in the eighteenth century is to be found in Condorcet's
_Esquisse d'un Tableau, etc._, pp. 187-189 (ed. 1847).]

[Footnote 6: Naigeon, p. 24.]

[Footnote 7: _Oeuv._, xix. 162.]

[Footnote 8: _Oeuv._, xix. 89.]

[Footnote 9: _Oeuv._, xix. 93.]

[Footnote 10: _Oeuv._, i. xlviii.]

[Footnote 11: Marmontel, _Mém._, vol. ii. b. vii. p. 315.]

[Footnote 12: Morellet, _Mém._, i. p. 29.]

[Footnote 13: _Oeuv._, i. xlviii.]

[Footnote 14: _Ib._ xix. 55.]

[Footnote 15: _Oeuv._, xviii. 376.]

[Footnote 16: Madame de Vandeul says 1744. But M. Jal (_Dict. Crit._,
495) reproduces the certificate of the marriage. Perhaps we may
charitably hope that Diderot himself is equally mistaken, when in later
years he sets down a disreputable adventure to 1744. (_Oeuv._, xix.

[Footnote 17: For an account of Madame de Puisieux in her later years,
see Mdme. Roland's _Memoirs_, i. 156.]

[Footnote 18: Sainte Beuve, _Causeries_, ix. 136.]

[Footnote 19: _Oeuv._, xix. 159. See also _Salons_, 1767, No, 118.]

[Footnote 20: _Les Règnes de Claud et de Néron, § 79.]

[Footnote 21: Account of Diderot by Meister, printed in Grimm's
_Correspondence Littéraire_ xiii. 202-211.]

[Footnote 22: Grétry, quoted in Genin's _Oeuv. choisies de Diderot_,

[Footnote 23: Marmontel, _Mém_., bk. vii. vol. ii. 312.]

[Footnote 24: Plato, _Theages_, 130, c.]

[Footnote 25: Art. _Encyclopédie_.]

[Footnote 26: See Barbier's Journal, iv. 166.]

[Footnote 27: The book was among those found in the possession of the
unfortunate La Barre.]

[Footnote 28: Honegger's _Kritische Geschichte der französischen
Cultureinflüsse in den letzten Jahrhunderten_, pp. 267-273.]

[Footnote 29: "Es ist nicht gleichgültig ob eine Folge grosser Gedanken
in frischer Ursprünglichkeit auf die Zeitgenossen wirkt, oder ob sie zu
einer Mixtur mit reichlichem Zusatz überlieferter Vorurtheile
verarbeitet ist. Ebensowenig ist est gleichgültig welcher Stimmung,
welchem Zustande der Geister eine neue Lehre begegnet. Man darf aber
kühn behaupten, das für die volle durchführung der von Newton
angebahnten Weltanschauung weder eine günstigere Naturanlage, noch eine
günstigere Stimmung getroffen werden konnte, als die der Franzosen im
18. Jahrhundert." (Lange's _Gesch. d. Materialismus_, i. 303.) But the
writer, like most historians of opinion, does not dwell sufficiently on
the co-operation of external social conditions with the progress of
logical inference.]

[Footnote 30: See Montgeron's _La Verité des Miracles de M. de Pâris
démontrée_ (1737)--an interesting contribution to the pathology of the
human mind.]

[Footnote 31: Barbier, 168, 244, etc.]

[Footnote 32: _Pensées Philosophiques_, xviii.]

[Footnote 33: On this, see Lange, i. 294.]

[Footnote 34: _Pensées Philosophiques. Oeuv._, i. 128, 129.]

[Footnote 35: _Oeuv._, xix. 87. Grimm, Supp. 148.]

[Footnote 36: Volney, in a book that was famous in its day, _Les Ruines,
ou Méditation sur les révolutions des empires_ (1791), resorted to a
slight difference of method. Instead of leaving the pretensions of the
various creeds to cancel one another, he invented a rather striking
scene, in which the priests of each creed are made to listen to the
professions of their rival, and then inveigh against his superstition
and inconsistency. The assumption on which Diderot's argument rests is,
that as so many different creeds all make the same exclusive claim, the
claim is equally false throughout. Volney's argument turns more directly
on the merits, and implies that all religions are equally morbid or
pathological products, because they all lead to conduct condemned by
their own most characteristic maxims. Volney's concrete presentation of
comparative religion was highly effective for destructive purposes,
though it would now be justly thought inadequate. (See _Oeuv. de
Volney_, i. 109, etc.)]

[Footnote 37: See on this, Lange, ii. 308.]

[Footnote 38: _De la Suffisance de la Religion Naturelle_, § 5.]

[Footnote 39: It is well to remember that torture was not abolished in
France until the Revolution. A Catholic writer makes the following
judicious remark: "We cannot study the eighteenth century without being
struck by the immoral consequences that inevitably followed for the
population of Paris from the frequency and the hideous details of
criminal executions. In reading the journals of the time, we are amazed
at the place taken in popular life by the scenes of the Grève. It was
the theatre of the day. The gibbet and the wheel did their work almost
periodically, and people looked on while poor wretches writhed in slow
agony all day long. Sometimes the programme was varied by decapitation
and even by the stake. Torture had its legends and its heroes--the
everyday talk of the generation which, having begun by seeing Damiens
torn by red-hot pincers, was to end by rending Foulon limb from limb."
(Carné, _Monarchie française au 18ième Siècle_, p. 493.)]

[Footnote 40: _Lettres sur les Anglais_, xxiii.]

[Footnote 41: _Essai sur le Mérite_, I. ii. § 3. _Oeue.,_ i. 33.]

[Footnote 42: "Shaftesbury is one of the most important apparitions of
the eighteenth century. All the greatest spirits of that time, not only
in England, but also Leibnitz, Voltaire, Diderot, Lessing, Mendelssohn,
Wieland, and Herder, drew the strongest nourishment from him." (Hettner,
_Literaturgeschichte des 18ten Jahrhunderts: ler Theil_. 188.) See also
Lange's _Gesch. des Materialismus,_ i. 306, etc. An excellent account of
Shaftesbury is given by Mr. Leslie Stephen, in his _Essays on
Free-thinking and Plain-speaking_.]

[Footnote 43: _Oeuv_., i. xlvi.]

[Footnote 44: Jobez, _France sous Louis XV_., ii. 373. There were, in
1725, 24,000 houses, 20,000 carriages, and 120,000 horses. (Martin's
_Hist, de France_, xv. 116.)]

[Footnote 45: The records of Paris in this century contain more than one
illustration of the turbulence of this odious army of lackeys. Barbier,
i. 118. For the way in which their insolence was fostered, see
Saint-Simon, xii. 354, etc. The number of lackeys retained seems to have
been extraordinarily great in proportion to the total of annual
expenditure, and this is a curious point in the manners of the time. See
Voltaire, _Dict. Phil_, § v. Économie Domestique (liv. 182).]

[Footnote 46: Duclos, _Mém. secrets sur le Règne de Louis XV., iii 306.]

[Footnote 47: _Oeuv_., xix. 91.]

[Footnote 48: _Ib_. p. 130.]

[Footnote 49: _Prom, du Sceptique. Oeuv_., i. 229.]

[Footnote 50: "If there is a God, he is infinitely incomprehensible,
since, being without parts or limits, he has no relation to us: we are
therefore incapable of knowing what he is, or if he is. That being so,
who shall venture to undertake the solution of the question? Not we, at
any rate, who have no relation to him." _Pensees_, II. iii. 1.]

[Footnote 51: P. 182.]

[Footnote 52: P. 223.]

[Footnote 53: Barbazan's _Fabliaux et Contes_, iii. 409 (ed. 1808). The
learned Barbazan's first edition was published in 1756, and so Diderot
may well have heard some of the contents of the work then in progress.]

[Footnote 54: Naigeon.]

[Footnote 55: In my _Rousseau_, p. 243 (new ed.)]

[Footnote 56: _Voltaire_, p. 149 (new ed., Globe 8vo).]

[Footnote 57: Joubert.]

[Footnote 58: Hettner, _Literaiurgeschichte des 18ten Jahrhunderts_, ii.

[Footnote 59: _Oeuv._, ii. 260, etc.]

[Footnote 60: _Oeuv._, ii. 258, 259. _De l'Essai sur les Femmes, par
Thomas_. See Grimm's _Corr. Lit._, vii. 451, where the book is
disparaged; and viii. 1, where Diderot's view of it is given. Thomas
(1732-85) belonged to the philosophical party, but not to the militant
section of it. He was a serious and orderly person in his life, and
enjoyed the closest friendship with Madame Necker. His enthusiasm for
virtue, justice, and freedom, expressed with much magniloquence, made
him an idol in the respectable circle which Madame Necker gathered round
her. He has been justly, though perhaps harshly, described as a
"valetudinarian Grandison." (Albert's _Lit. Française au 18ième Siècle_,
p. 423.)]

[Footnote 61: _Elémens de la Philosophie de Newton_, Pt. II. ch. vii.
Berkeley himself only refers once to Cheselden's case: _Theory of Vision
vindicated_, § 71. Professor Fraser, in his important edition of
Berkeley's works (i. 444), reproduces from the _Philosophical
Transactions_ the original account of the operation, which is
unfortunately much less clear and definite than Voltaire's emphasised
version would make it, though its purport is distinct enough.]

[Footnote 62: _Essai sur l'Origine des Connaissances humaines_, I. § 6.]

[Footnote 63: _Let. sur les Aveugles_, 323, 324. Condorcet attaches a
higher value to Cheselden's operation. _Oeuv._, ii. 121.]

[Footnote 64: Dr. M'Cosh _(Exam. of J. S. Mill's Philosophy_, p. 163)
quotes what seems to be the best reported case, by a Dr. Franz, of
Leipsic; and Prof. Fraser, in the appendix to Berkeley (_loc. cit._),
quotes another good case by Mr. Nunnely. See also Mill's _Exam. of
Hamilton_, p. 288 (3d ed.)]

[Footnote 65: _Confessions_, II, vii.]

[Footnote 66: Darwin, _The Expression of the Emotions in Men and
Animals_, c. xiii. p. 312, and also pp. 335-337. This fact, so far as it
goes, seems to make against the theory of transmitted sentiments.]

[Footnote 67: Locke answered that the man would not distinguish the cube
from the sphere, until he had identified by actual touch the source of
his former tactual impression with the object making a given visual
impression. Condillac, while making just objections to the terms in
which Molyneux propounded the question, answered it different from
Locke. Diderot expresses his own opinion thus: "I think that when the
eyes of the born-blind are opened for the first time to the light, he
will perceive nothing at all; that some time will be necessary for his
eye to make experiments for itself; but that it will make these
experiments itself, and in its own way, and without the help of touch."
This is in harmony with the modern doctrine, that there is an inherited
aptitude of structure (in the eye, for instance), but that experience is
an essential condition to the development and perfecting of this

[Footnote 68: A very intelligent English translation of the _Letter on
the Blind_ was published in 1773. For some reason or other, Diderot is
described on the title-page as Physician to His most Christian Majesty.]

[Footnote 69: _Oeuv_., i. 308.]

[Footnote 70: Pp. 309, 310.]

[Footnote 71: P. 311.]

[Footnote 72: _Corr._, June 1749.]

[Footnote 73: See _Critical Miscellanies: First Series_.]

[Footnote 74: Diderot to Voltaire, 1749. _Oeuv_., xix. 421.]

[Footnote 75: Diderot to Voltaire, 1749. _Oeuv_., xix. 421.]

[Footnote 76: P. 294.]

[Footnote 77: Lewes's _Hist. Philos_., ii. 342.]

[Footnote 78: Rosenkranz, i. 102.]

[Footnote 79: Tylor's _Researches into the early history of mankind_,
chaps. ii. and iii.; Lubbock's _Origin of Civilization_, chap. ix.]

[Footnote 80: Madame Dupré de Saint Maur, who had found favour in the
eyes of the Count d'Argenson. D'Argenson, younger brother of the
Marquis, who had been dismissed in 1747, was in power from 1743 to 1757.
Notwithstanding his alleged share in Diderot's imprisonment, he was a
tolerably steady protector of the philosophical party.]

[Footnote 81: Barbier, iv. 337.]

[Footnote 82: There is a picture of Berryer, under the name of Orgon in
that very curious book, _L'Ecole de l'Homme_, ii. 73.]

[Footnote 83: Pieces given in Diderot's Works, xx. 121-123.]

[Footnote 84: Naigeon, p. 131.]

[Footnote 85: Voltaire's _Corr_. July and Aug. 1749.]

[Footnote 86: _Conf_., II. viii.]

[Footnote 87: Michelet's _Louis XV_., p. 258.]

[Footnote 88: See the present author's _Rousseau_, vol. i. p. 134 (Globe
8vo ed.)]

[Footnote 89: For the two petitions of the booksellers to D'Argenson
praying for Diderot's liberty, see M. Assézat's preliminary notice.
_Oeuv_., xiii. 112, etc.]

[Footnote 90: Jourdain's _Recherches sur les traductions latines
d'Aristote_, p. 325.]

[Footnote 91: _Lit. of Europe_, pt. i. ch. ii. § 39.]

[Footnote 92: Whewell's _Hist. Induc. Sci._. xii. c. 7.]

[Footnote 93: Fr. Roger Bacon; J.S. Brewer's Pref. pp 57, 63.]

[Footnote 94: Leibnitii, Opera v. 184.]

[Footnote 95: _Oeuv. de D'Alembert_, i. 63.]

[Footnote 96: _Mém._ pour J.P.F. Luneau de Boisjermain, 4to, Paris,
1771. See also Diderot's _Prospectus_, "La traduction entière de
Chambers nous a passé sous les yeux," etc.]

[Footnote 97: Biog. Universelle, _s.v._]

[Footnote 98: Michelet, _Louis XV._, 258. D'Aguesseau (1668-1751) has
left one piece which ought to be extricated from the thirteen quartos of
his works--his memoir of his father (_Oeuv._, xiii.) This is one of
those records of solid and elevated character, which do more to refresh
and invigorate the reader than a whole library of religious or ethical
exhortations can do. It has the loftiness, the refined austerity, the
touching impressiveness of Tacitus's _Agricola_ or Condorcet's _Turgot_,
together with a certain grave sweetness that was almost peculiar to the
Jansenist school of the seventeenth century.]

[Footnote 99: A short estimate of D'Alembert's principal scientific
pieces, by M. Bertram, is to be found in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_,
for October 1865.]

[Footnote 100: _Oeuv. de D'Alembert_, iv. 367.]

[Footnote 101: _Oeuv. de J. Ph. Roland_, i. 230 (ed. 1800).]

[Footnote 102: _Essai sur la Société des Gens de Lettres et des Grands_,
etc. _Oeuv_., iv. 372. "Write," he says, "as if you loved glory; in
conduct, act as if it were indifferent to you." Compare, with reference
to the passage in the text, Duclos's remark (_Consid. sur les Moeurs_,
ch. xi.): "The man in power commands, but the intelligent govern,
because in time they form public opinion, and that sooner or later
subjugates every kind of despotism." Only partially true.]

[Footnote 103: _Pensées Philos._, § 26.]

[Footnote 104: _Phil. Pos._, v. 520. _Polit. Pos._, iii. 584.]

[Footnote 105: See Pref. to vol. iii.]

[Footnote 106: For instance, see Pref. to vol. vi.]

[Footnote 107: _Siècle de Louis XV_., ch. xliii.]

[Footnote 108: Grimm, _Corr. Lit._, i. 273. Diderot, _Oeuv_., iv. 15.]

[Footnote 109: _Avertissement_ to vol. vi.; also to vol. vii. Turgot's
articles were Etymiologie, Existence, Expansibilité, Foires, Fondations.
The text of these is wrongly inserted among Diderot's contributions to
the Encyclopædia, in the new edition of his Works, xv. 12.]

[Footnote 110: Condorcet's _Vie de Turgot_.]

[Footnote 111: Pref. to vol. iii. (1752), and to vol. vi. (1756).]

[Footnote 112: Pref. to vol. ii.]

[Footnote 113: Grimm, _Corr. Lit._, i. 130. Forbonnais's chief work is
his _Becherches et Considérations sur les finances de la France_.]

[Footnote 114: _Avert._ to vol. ii.]

[Footnote 115: Nov. 10, 1760, xix. 24. Also, Oct. 7, 1761, xix. 35.]

[Footnote 116: See also Preface to vol. iii.]

[Footnote 117: _Avert._ to vol. vi., and _s. v. Fontange_. Grimm, i.

[Footnote 118: _Corresp. avec D'Alembert_ (_Oeuv._, lxxv.), Sept.
1755, Feb. 1757, etc.]

[Footnote 119: Dec. 22, 1757.]

[Footnote 120: May 24, 1757.]

[Footnote 121: Dec. 13, 1756; April 1756.]

[Footnote 122: July 21, 1757.]

[Footnote 123: Article _Encyclopédie_.]

[Footnote 124: To Voltaire, Feb. 15, 1757.]

[Footnote 125: Hettner's _Literaturgesch, des 18ten Jahrhunderts_, ii.

[Footnote 126: Art. _Encyclopédie_.]

[Footnote 127: _Prospectus_.]

[Footnote 128: Barbier, v. 151, 153.]

[Footnote 129: Diderot to Voland, _Oeuv_., xviii. 361. Carlyle's
_Frederick,_ bk. xviii. ch. xi.]

[Footnote 130: _Apologie de l' Abbe de Prades. Oeuv.,_ i. 482.]

[Footnote 131: See Jobez, i. 358.]

[Footnote 132: xix. 425.]

[Footnote 133: Barbier, v. 160.]

[Footnote 134: _Ib_. v. 169.]

[Footnote 135: Grimm, _Corr. Lit_., i. 81. Barbier, _v_. 170.]

[Footnote 136: _Avert._, to vol. iii. _Oeuv. de D'Alembert_, iv. 410.]

[Footnote 137: Barbier, v. 170. Grimm, _Corr. Lit._, i. 201; _Ib._ ii.

[Footnote 138: Hardy, quoted by Aubertin, 407, 408.]

[Footnote 139: _Corr. Lit._, ii. 271.]

[Footnote 140: To D'Alembert, Dec. 29, 1757; Jan. 1758.]

[Footnote 141: For a short account of Helvétius's book, see a later

[Footnote 142: _Corr. Lit._, ii. 292, 293.]

[Footnote 143: Barbier, vii. 125-142.]

[Footnote 144: Lacretelle's _France pendant le 18ième Siècle_, iii. 89.]

[Footnote 145: Jobez, ii. 464, 538.]

[Footnote 146: See _Rousseau_, vol. i. chaps, vii. and ix. (Globe 8vo

[Footnote 147: _Louis XV. et Louis XVI._, p. 50.]

[Footnote 148: Jan. 11, 1758. Jan. 20, 1758. Diderot to Mdlle. Voland,
Oct. 11, 1759. See the following chapter.]

[Footnote 149: Voltaire to D'Alembert, Jan. to May 1758. Voltaire to
Diderot, Jan. 1758.]

[Footnote 150: Diderot to Voltaire, Feb. 19, 1758, xix. 452.]

[Footnote 151: To Voland, _Oeuv._, xix. 146.]

[Footnote 152: _Corr. Lit._, vii. 146.]

[Footnote 153: _Corr. Lit._, vii. 146.]

[Footnote 154: _Oeuv. de Voltaire_. Published sometimes among
_Facéties_, sometimes among _Mélanges_.]

[Footnote 155: See _Oeuv. Choisies de Jean Reynaud_, reprinted in
1866. The article on _Encyclopèdie_ (vol. i.) is an interesting attempt
to vindicate Cartesian principles of classification.]

[Footnote 156: See fly-leaf of vol. xxviii.]

[Footnote 157: _Mém._, ii. 115. Grimm, vii. 145.]

[Footnote 158: De Maistre says that the reputation of Bacon does not
really go farther back than the Encyclopædia, and that no true
discoverer either knew him or leaned on him for support. (_Examen de la
Phil. de Bacon_, ii. 110.) Diderot says: "I think I have taught my
fellow-citizens to esteem and read Bacon; people have turned over the
pages of this profound author more since the last five or six years than
has ever been the case before" (xiv. 494). In Professor Fowler's careful
and elaborate edition of the Novum Organum (_Introduct._, p. 104), he
disputes the statement of Montuola and others, that the celebrity of
Bacon dates from the Encyclopædia. All turns upon what we mean by
celebrity. What the Encyclopædists certainly did was to raise Bacon, for
a time, to the popular throne from which Voltaire's Newtonianism had
pushed Descartes. Mr. Fowler traces a chain of Baconian tradition, no
doubt, but he perhaps surrenders nearly as much as is claimed when he
admits that "the patronage of Voltaire and the Encyclopædists did much
to extend the study of Bacon's writings, besides producing a
considerable controversy as to his true meaning on many questions of
philosophy and theology."]

[Footnote 159: See above, p. 62, _note_.]

[Footnote 160: D'Alembert was not afraid to contend against the great
captain of the age, that the military spirit of Lewis XIV. had been a
great curse to Europe. He showed a true appreciation of Frederick's
character and conception of his duties as a ruler, in believing that the
King of Prussia would rather have had a hundred thousand labourers more,
and as many soldiers fewer, if his situation had allowed it. _Corresp.
avec le roi de Prusse_, _Oeuv._, v. 305.]

[Footnote 161: See Essay on Turgot in my _Critical Miscellanies_,
_Second Series_.]

[Footnote 162: Such, as that their feudal rights should be confirmed;
that none but nobles should carry arms, or be eligible for the army;
that _lettres-de-cachet_ should continue; that the press should not be
free; that the wine trade should not be free internally or for export;
that breaking up wastes and enclosing commons should be prohibited; that
the old arrangement of the militia should remain.--Arthur Young's
_France_, ch. xxi. p. 607.]

[Footnote 163: _Ib._ ch. xxi.]

[Footnote 164: _Critical Miscellanies_, _Second Series_, p. 202.]

[Footnote 165: _Travels in France_, p. 600.]

[Footnote 166: _Travels in France_, i. 63.]

[Footnote 167: Rosenkranz, i. 219.]

[Footnote 168: _Avert_. to vol. iii]

[Footnote 169: Diderot, _Oeuv._, iv. 24.]

[Footnote 170: Diderot's _Leben_, i. 157.]

[Footnote 171: _Oeuv._, xx. 132.]

[Footnote 172: The writer was one Romilly, who had been elected a
minister of one of the French Protestant churches in London. See
_Memoirs of Sir Samuel Romilly_, vol. i.]

[Footnote 173: I have no space to quote an interesting page in this
article on the characteristics and the varying destinies of genius. "We
must rank in this class Pindar, Æschylus, Moses, Jesus Christ, Mahomet,
Shakespeare, Roger Bacon, and Paracelsus." xvii. 265-267.]

[Footnote 174: The same idea is found still more ardently expressed in
one of his letters to Mdlle. de Voland (Oct. 15, 1759, xviii. 408),
where he defends the eagerness of those who have loved one another
during life, to be placed side by side after death.]

[Footnote 175: xiv. 32.]

[Footnote 176: _S.v._ Sarrasins, xvii. 82. See also xviii. 429, for
Diderot's admiration of Sadi.]

[Footnote 177: _S.v. Pyrrhonienne_.]

[Footnote 178: _E.g._ in the article on _Plaisir_, xvi. p. 298.]

[Footnote 179: To Damilaville, 1766, xix. 477.]

[Footnote 180: xx. 34.]

[Footnote 181: xvi. 280.]

[Footnote 182: See also article _Indépendance_.]

[Footnote 183: iv. 93.]

[Footnote 184: The reader will find abundant information and criticism
upon the Wolffian Philosophy in Professor Edward Caird's _Critical
Account of the Philosophy of Kant_, recently published at Glasgow.]

[Footnote 185: xvi. 491, 492.]

[Footnote 186: There are casual criticisms on Spinosa in the articles on
_Identity_ and _Liberty_.]

[Footnote 187: xv. 501.]

[Footnote 188: xix. 435, 436.]

[Footnote 189: See below, vol. ii.]

[Footnote 190: S.v. _Luxe_, xvi. 23.]

[Footnote 191: As an illustration how much these ideas were in the air,
the reader may refer to a passage in Sédaine's popular comedy, _The
Philosopher without knowing it_ (1765), Act II. sc. 4. Vanderk, among
other things, says of the merchant: "Ce n'est pas un temple, ce n'est
pas une seule nation qu'il sert; il les sert toutes, et en est servi:
c'est l'homme de l'univers. Quelques particuliers audacieux font armer
les rois, la guerre s'allume, tout s'embrase, l'Europe est divisée: mais
ce négociant anglais, hollandais, russe ou chinois, n'en est pas moins
l'ami de mon coeur: nous sommes sur la superficie de la terre autant de
fils de soie qui lient ensemble les nations, et les ramènent à la paix
par la nécessité du commerce; voila, mon fils, ce que c'est qu'un
honnête négociant."]

[Footnote 192: The younger sister of Diderot's Sophie.]

[Footnote 193: xviii. 454.]

[Footnote 194: See below, the chapter on _Rameau's Nephew_.]

[Footnote 195: Nov. 10, 1770; xix. 22.]

[Footnote 196: See, for instance, xix. 81, 91, 129, 133, 145,
etc.--passages which Mr. Carlyle and Rosenkranz have either overlooked,
or else, without any good reason, disbelieved.]

[Footnote 197: xviii. 293.]

[Footnote 198: xix. 46.]

[Footnote 199: xix. 84. See also 326.]

[Footnote 200: xix. 137, 341, etc.]

[Footnote 201: xviii. 535.]

[Footnote 202: xviii. 507, etc.]

[Footnote 203: xviii. 526, 531.]

[Footnote 204: Nov. 2, 1759; xviii. 431.]

[Footnote 205: xix. 82.]

[Footnote 206: xix. 139.]

[Footnote 207: xix. 107.]

[Footnote 208: xix. 181.]

[Footnote 209: xix. 81.]

[Footnote 210: xix. 149.]

[Footnote 211: xix. 90.]

[Footnote 212: xix. 163, 164.]

[Footnote 213: Sept. 20, 1765; xix. 179-187.]

[Footnote 214: xviii. 476, 478.]

[Footnote 215: xviii. 479. Comte writes more seriously somewhat in the
same sense: "For thirty centuries the priestly castes of China, and
still more of India, have been watching our Western transition; to them
it must appear mere agitation, as puerile as it is tempestuous, with
nothing to harmonise its different phases but their common inroad upon
unity." _Positive Polity_, iv. 11 (English Translation)]

[Footnote 216: xix. 233.]

[Footnote 217: Voltaire's Satire on the Economists.]

[Footnote 218: Oct. 8, 1768; xix. 832.]

[Footnote 219: xviii. 509.]

[Footnote 220: xviii. 513.]

[Footnote 221: xviii. 511-513.]

[Footnote 222: xix. 244.]

[Footnote 223: xviii. 459.]

[Footnote 224: xix. 259.]

[Footnote 225: _Lettres de Mdlle. de Lespinasse_, viii. p. 20. (Ed.
Asse, 1876.)]

[Footnote 226: Aug. 1, 1769; xix. 365.]

[Footnote 227: (1765-69) xix. 381-412. Also p. 318.]

[Footnote 228: June 1756; xix. 433-436.]

[Footnote 229: Aug. 1762; xix. 112.]

[Footnote 230: In _Rousseau_, vol. i. ch. vii. (Globe 8vo, ed.)]

[Footnote 231: Dec. 1757; xix. 446.]

[Footnote 232: xix. 449.]

[Footnote 233: Dec. 20, 1765; xix. 210.]

[Footnote 234: See _Rousseau_, vol. i. ch. vii. (Globe 8vo. ed.)]

[Footnote 235: Oct. 9, 1759; xviii. 397.]

[Footnote 236: Nov. 6, 1760; xix. 17.]

[Footnote 237: Sept. 17, 1761; xix. 47.]

[Footnote 238: Sept. 17, 1769; xix. 320.]

[Footnote 239: _Lettres sur le Commerce de la Librairie_, xviii. 47.]

[Footnote 240: See _Rousseau_, vol. ii. ch. i. (Globe 8vo. ed.)]

[Footnote 241: Diderot's _Lettre sur le Commerce de la Librairie_
(1767). _Oeuv._, xviii.]

[Footnote 242: Those who are interested in the history of authorship may
care to know the end of the matter. Copyright is no modern practice, and
the perpetual right of authors, or persons to whom they had ceded it,
was recognised in France through the whole of the seventeenth century
and three-quarters of the eighteenth. The perpetuity of the right had
produced literary properties of considerable value; for example,
Boudot's Dictionary was sold by his executors for 24,000 livres;
Prévot's Manual Lexicon and two Dictionaries for 115,000 livres. But in
1777--ten years after Diderot's plea--the Council decreed that copyright
was a privilege and an exercise of the royal grace. The motives for this
reduction of an author's right from a transferable property to a
terminable privilege seem to have been, first, the general mania of the
time for drawing up the threads of national life into the hands of the
administration, and second, the hope of making money by a tariff of
permissions. The Constituent Assembly dealt with the subject with no
intelligence nor care, but the Convention passed a law recognising in
the author an exclusive right for his life, and giving a property for
ten years after his death to heirs or _cessionaires_. The whole history
is elaborately set forth in the collection of documents entitled _La
Propriété littéraire au 18ième siècle_. (Hachette, 1859.)]

[Footnote 243: Oct. 11, 1759; xviii. 401.]

[Footnote 244: xix. 319, 320.]

[Footnote 245: _Miscellaneous Works_, p. 73.]

[Footnote 246: Walpole to Selwyn. 1765. Jesse's _Selwyn_, ii. 9. See
also Walpole to Mann, iv. 283.]

[Footnote 247: D'Epinay, ii. 4, 138, 153, etc.]

[Footnote 248: See Comte's _Positive Polity_, vol. iii.]

[Footnote 249: "_That virtue of originality that men so strain after is
not newness, as they vainly think (there is nothing new), it is only

[Footnote 250: Lessing: 1729-81. Diderot: 1713-84. As De Quincey puts
it, Lessing may be said to have begun his career precisely in the middle
of the last century.]

[Footnote 251: _Hamburg. Dramaturgie_, § 85. Werke, vi. 381. (Ed.

[Footnote 252: Diderot's _Leben_, i. 274, 277.]

[Footnote 253: _Corr. Lit._, ii. 103.]

[Footnote 254: See Grimm's account of the performance, _Corr. Lit._,
vii. 313.]

[Footnote 255: Act IV. sc. 3.]

[Footnote 256: Act V. sc. 3.]

[Footnote 257: _De la Poésie Dramatique_, ch. xxi.]

[Footnote 258: vii. 107.]

[Footnote 259: Nov. 28, 1760; xix. 457.]

[Footnote 260: _Lettre sur les Sourds et les Muets_, i. 359.]

[Footnote 261: _Correspond. du Roi Stanislas-Auguste et de Mdme.
Geoffrin, _p. 466.]

[Footnote 262: Aug. 1769; xix. 314-323.]

[Footnote 263: Quoted in Mr. Sime's excellent _Life of Lessing_ (Trübner
and Co., 1877), p. 230.]

[Footnote 264: _De la Poésie Dramatique_, § 2, vii. 313.]

[Footnote 265: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iv. 177 (ed. 1837).]

[Footnote 266: xix. 474.]

[Footnote 267: _Père de Famille_, Act II. sc. 2, p. 211.]

[Footnote 268: _Paradoxe sur le Comédien_, p. 383.]

[Footnote 269: _Journals_, ii. 331. Also vi. 248; vii. 9.]

[Footnote 270: _Réflexions sur Térence_, v. 228-238. In another place
(_De la Poésie Dram._, 370) he says: "Nous avons des comédies. Les
Anglais n'ont que des satires, à la vérité pleines de force et de
gaieté, mais sans moeurs et sans goût. Les Italiens en sont réduits au
drame burlesque."]

[Footnote 271: vii. 95.]

[Footnote 272: _Lettre sur les Sourds et les Muets_, i. 355.]

[Footnote 273: _Paradoxe_, viii. 384. The criticism on the detestable
rendering of _Hamlet_ by Ducis (viii. 471) makes one doubt whether
Diderot knew much about Shakespeare.]

[Footnote 274: Letter to Mdlle. Jodin, xix. 387.]

[Footnote 275: Johnson one day said to John Kemble: "Are you, sir, one
of those enthusiasts who believe yourself transformed into the very
character you represent?" Kemble answered that he had never felt so
strong a persuasion himself. _Boswell_, ch. 77.]

[Footnote 276: Lessing makes this a starting-point of his criticism of
the art of acting, though he uses it less absolutely than Diderot would
do. _Hamburg. Dramaturgie_, § 3, vol. vi. 19.]

[Footnote 277: In Lichtenberg's _Briefe aus England_ (1776) there is a
criticism of the most admirably intelligent kind on Garrick. Lord Lytton
gave an account of it to English readers in the _Fortnightly Review_
(February 1871). The following passage confirms what Diderot says above:

"You have doubtless heard much of his extraordinary power of change of
face. Here is one example of it. When he played the part of Sir John
Brute, I was close to the stage, and could observe him narrowly. He
entered with the corners of his mouth so turned down, as to give to his
whole countenance the expression of habitual sottishness and debauchery.
And this artificial form of the mouth he retained, unaltered, from the
beginning to the end of the play, with the exception only that, as the
play went on, the lips gaped and hung more and more in proportion to the
gradually increasing drunkenness of the character represented. This
made-up face was not produced by stage-paint, but solely by muscular
contraction; and it must be so identified by Garrick with his idea of
Sir John Brute as to be spontaneously assumed by him whenever he plays
that part; otherwise, his retention of such a mask, without even once
dropping it either from fatigue or surprise, even in the most boisterous
action of his part, would be quite inexplicable."]

[Footnote 278: viii. 382.]

[Footnote 279: viii. 373, 376, etc.]

[Footnote 280: As Hamlet to his players: "Nor do not saw the air too
much with your hand thus; but use all gently; for in the very torrent,
tempest, and (as I may say) the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire
and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness."]

[Footnote 281: To Jodin, xix, 382. "Point de hoquets, point de cris, de
la dignité vraie, un jeu ferme, sensé, raisonné, juste, mâle; la plus
grande sobriété de gestes. C'est de la contenance, c'est du maintien,
qu'il faut déclamer les trois quarts du temps."--P. 390.]

[Footnote 282: P. 395.]

[Footnote 283: _Bijoux Indiscrets_, ch. xxxviii.]

[Footnote 284: vii. 121. Lessing makes a powerful addition to this.
_Hamburg. Dram._ vi. 261.]

[Footnote 285: _Poésie Dramatique_, §§ 20, 21.]

[Footnote 286: _Sienne Entretien_, vii. 138.]

[Footnote 287: _Poés. Dram._., § 2. The Poetics of the Genre Sérieux are
to be found, vii. 137, 138.]

[Footnote 288: i. 316.]

[Footnote 289: _Hints for an Essay on the Drama_, p. 155.]

[Footnote 290: _Hist. du Romantisme_, p. 93.]

[Footnote 291: _Der Gegensatz des Classischen und des Romantischen,
etc._ By Conrad Hermann, p. 66.]

[Footnote 292: Schopenhauer, _Ethik_, 199]

[Footnote 293: _Oeuv._, iv. 29.]

[Footnote 294: _Werke_, xxv. 291.]

[Footnote 295: The original of the text, published in the Assézat
edition of Diderot's works, was a manuscript found, with other waifs and
strays of the eighteenth century, in a chest that had belonged to
Messrs. Würtel and Treutz, the publishers at Strasburg. Its authenticity
is corroborated by the fact that in the places where Goethe has marked
an omission, we find stories or expressions from which we understand
only too well why Goethe forbore to reproduce them.]

[Footnote 296: v. 339.]

[Footnote 297: Lucian, [Greek: Peri Parasitou], and [Greek: Peri tôn epi
misthô sunontôn.]]

[Footnote 298: Grimm, ix. 349.]

[Footnote 299: _Anmerkungen, Rameau's Neffe; Werke_, xxv. 268.]

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