Papers of the 2010 Electronic Enlightenment Colloquium

Enlightenment correspondence: letter-writing & reading in the 18th century, exploring the links between correspondence & publishing in the Enlightenment.

Keynote address: Letters, correspondents & correspondence

By: James Raven, University of Essex — staff page

Abstract: My intention, in opening, and helping to launch the next stage in the Electronic Enlightenment Project, is to offer a series of reflections on my engagement with letters over 25 years of research in order to explore the theme of this conference — the links between correspondence and publishing.

Topics: Eighteenth-century epistolary communication | Letters & publishing | Letter manuals

Publishing & private correspondence

Isabelle de Charrière: from real to fictional correspondences

By: Caroline Warman, Jesus College, University of Oxford — staff page

Abstract: Isabelle de Charrière is most famous now for the two long and passionate epistolary relationships she had with Constant d’Hermenches (1760–1775) and later with his nephew Benjamin Constant (1787–1801). The epistolary novel was also her literary form of choice, and she exploited it with great skill, from the multivocal Letters from Neuchâtel (1784) in which three principal characters write to one another and to their friends and family, and the univocal Letters from Mistress Henley (1784), in which Mistress Henley reports her progress through married life to a distant friend, to the wider scale Letters from émigré cases (1793) in which a family dispersed by the Revolution writes to each other and debates the events of the day, and their own differing positions.

Geoffrey Scott (1925) wrote that Charrière’s amorous correspondence was disastrous, as instead of two people, there were in fact four: he theorised a separate epistolary self, of a stranger and more egotistical hue. Janet and Malcolm Whatley argued more recently that on the contrary, these correspondences gave "their writers a medium in which to shape their inner lives" (2000). This paper will explore how Charrière uses the letter form, both in real life and in fiction, and consider its possibilities and its freedoms.

Topics: Private life | Selfhood | Writing | Truth | Fragility

Reading bernardin de saint-pierre: between letter & text

By: Rebecca Ford, University of Nottingham

Abstract: This paper takes as its central focus the correspondence between Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and three of his female reader-correspondents: Julie de La Berlière, Monique-Amélie Guillebon Le Pesant de Boisguilbert, and Stéphanie-Félicité Ducrest, comtesse de Genlis. In December 1784, the publication of the Etudes de la nature transformed Bernardin from aspiring but impoverished writer to widely-read and admired philosophe. Evidence of the immense popularity of the Etudes comes not only from sales figures and the accolades granted to Bernardin by official bodies and institutions, but also, and perhaps most importantly, from the correspondence between Bernardin and his readers.

Aware of the valuable nature of the friendship of influential women, Bernardin seems after 1785 to have carefully cultivated the correspondence of female readers touched and inspired by the Etudes de la Nature — while a number of male readers write to express their appreciation of the Etudes, they are far outnumbered in number and duration of correspondence by their female counterparts, and it is the nature — and limitations — of such epistolary relationships that I will explore in this paper. Such correspondences shed light on the appeal held by the Etudes (and their author) for its eighteenth-century audience, and the importance of the friendship of these women to Bernardin’s career, but also reveal much about the ways in which sociability functioned — and also, very often, malfunctioned — through the medium of the letter.

Topics: Reader response | Gender relations | Sociability

Bernardin de saint-pierre takes control: some aspects of self-publishing in 1783–1784

By: Noëlle McCavana, Queen's University, Belfast — student profile

Abstract: One of the correspondences published online as part of the Electronic Enlightenment Project is that of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, best known as the author of Paul et Virginie. This paper explores the process by which Saint-Pierre brought to publication in 1784 his second work, the Études de la nature. The process took a full year, and throughout this time Saint-Pierre was in frequent contact by letter with his friend Pierre-Michel Hennin, one of his financial backers. Mindful of his debt to his friend, Saint-Pierre was at pains to keep Hennin closely informed of the progress of what he considered to be his life's work. The result is a fascinating, detailed account of the obstacles and pitfalls experienced by an author attempting to manage his own publication from start to finish.

Saint-Pierre's first publication, in 1773, his Voyage à l'Île de France, had been a disappointment to him. He had sold his manuscript to his printer Merlin for a modest sum, and had nevertheless been in dispute with him over payment. Although he won the resulting court case, Saint-Pierre was left with a strong desire never again to put himself in such an unfavourable position. His correspondence with Hennin includes wide coverage of many of the problems faced by the author managing his own publication. Finance was a major worry for Saint-Pierre, as was censorship. Choice of printer, choice of size and format, and illustrations are all covered in considerable detail.

In an era when much publication was in the hands of professionals, Saint-Pierre's experience as expressed in his correspondence provides revealing insights on a less common aspect of publishing.

Topics: Censorship | Presentation copies | Publicity

Letters in lives & works

Publishing correspondence: letters in private collections & published forms

By: Susan Whyman — personal website

Abstract: This paper places the "publishing" of Electronic Enlightenment in its historical context by looking at the different trajectories and on-going lives of manuscript, printed, and digitized letters. It is important that we do so at this time in light of the breathtaking speed of technological change, which has left little time for reflection on the part of the average researcher. The importance of publishing one’s letters, for example, was viewed differently in different time periods according to the gender, class, and degree of literacy of the correspondents. I will focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the epistolary message in these three formats over time.

I will analyse the unpublished letter book of Esther Masham (1675–1728), which contains letters from John Locke. The album will then be compared and contrasted with Locke’s published correspondence, and the treatment of both authors in the Electronic Enlightenment database. In the process, I will reconsider questions about what made a letter-writer an author and what it meant to publish one’s work over time. My goal is to encourage us to think more critically about the sociology of the letter in different periods and to reflect on how we use "published" correspondence in the age of the internet.

Topics: Publishing | Authorship | Print & digital texts

Lettering in the open: when private turns public (Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot)

By: Isabelle C. deMarte, Lewis and Clark College — staff page

Abstract: Throughout the eighteenth century, the commerce of letters and private expression of self through letters became a matter of unprecedented public interest. This context, I argue, caused a particular type of letter writing that can be called “lettering in the open” both to reflect the intellectual forces at work throughout the century, and have a tremendous impact on the Enlightenment. While epistolary fiction is traditionally credited by scholars for the emergence of modern notions such as the author, the subject, even the “invention of human rights,” Enlightenment epistolary texts touching on literary property, freedom of expression, and knowledge by Voltaire (Lettre à un premier commis), Rousseau (Lettre à d’Alembert), and Diderot (Lettre sur le commerce de la librairie in particular, but also Lettre sur les aveugles and Lettre sur les sourds et muets) are rarely read for their self-proclaimed letter form.

Written and/or published as letters, they stand alone, halfway between unpublished actual personal correspondences and published fictional letter exchanges. The private dimension of their address becomes somewhat of a pretext, as though these open letters both publicized and fictionalized the private exchange as part of their otherwise subversive content. My claim, then, becomes their hybrid form of self expression, they dramatize and problematize what it means for a private individual to be, not speaking, but writing, in public.

Topics: French Letter-writing | 18th century | Enlightenment | Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau | Intellectual and Cultural History

Letters as primary sources

Printing prophets: letters and publications about seventeenth-century messiahs

By: Brandon Marriott, University of Oxford

Abstract: In 1656, a newspaper in Catholic Italy printed a story about the English Quaker James Nayler, who rode into Bristol in the same manner that Jesus entered Jerusalem. Ten years later, the same newspaper published a report about the Jewish messianic claimant Sabbatai Sevi who rose to prominence in the Ottoman Empire. These two men had very different backgrounds, yet reports of their messianic actions travelled far and wide, spread through Italian diplomatic and English mercantile correspondence, and surfaced in newspapers in Venice, Florence, and London.

Utilizing recent archival research in England and Italy, this paper will track the eastward transmission of accounts about Nayler as well as the westward transmission of accounts about Sevi. In doing so it will examine how ideas related to them were spread along these transnational networks, culminating in their publication in newspapers in different states. This will provide insight into the manners in which people of varying religious, national, and professional backgrounds understood and represented these individuals; the ways in which ideas changed as they travelled across national and religious boundaries; and the ties between merchant letters, diplomatic correspondence, and newspaper publication in the seventeenth century.

Topics: James Nayler | Sabbatai Sev | Transnational History | Newspapers

Epistolary unease: William Robertsons queries and the construction of a “compleat library”

By: Porter White, University of Edinburgh

Abstract: Letters surrounding the publication of a work deepen the modern understanding of the work’s history, while letters printed as part of a work give a sense of the minds that framed a former age. Yet what can those letters falling somewhere between the status of “surrounding” and explicitly “being” a work tell us about that work, and perhaps by extension, its era?

William Robertson’s History of America (1777) provides a case study of a work that relies on letters somewhere in between. The modern scholarly account of America often underlines Robertson’s heavy use of early secondary sources on the exploration of the New World. There is less agreement regarding a group of contemporary primary sources, a set of letters that also clearly played a critical role in Robertson’s research. When he was gathering narratives on the Americas, Robertson wrote a set of thirty “queries,” copies of which he sent as letters to a number of colonists with direct experience of native peoples. Based on a set of surviving and answered queries, I will argue against the typical account of America as a conjectural history, written almost exclusively from secondary sources. Instead, I propose that America took form only as result of the interaction of the primary source material of the queries with the secondary sources in Spanish. Indeed, America is a key example of how, during the eighteenth century, primary source letters provided rich but not always explicitly acknowledged material upon which Enlightenment histories were made.

Topics: Native Americans | Exploration of America | Scottish Enlightenment | William Robertson | Historiography

Letters as historical documents

Finding 18th-century correspondence: collections, catalogues and context

By: Mike Webb, Bodleian Library

Abstract: 18th-century correspondence can be found in the Bodleian Library’s collections using a number of different catalogues, published, unpublished and online. These catalogues vary in their level of detail, the depth of indexing, and their format, and can be something of a barrier to users.

This paper will attempt to guide the researcher around catalogues of manuscripts, providing some background to the context and content of 18th-century archive and manuscript collections in the Bodleian Library, from the great "named collections" such as Rawlinson and Carte, given to the Library in the 1750s, to more recent donations and purchases. There will be an introduction to some recent online initiatives in Western MSS. with 18th-century content.

Topics: Collecting | Archiving | Cataloguing

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