The Business of Enlightenment: A publishing history of the Encyclopédie 1775-1800
The Business of Enlightenment: A publishing history of the Encyclopédie 1775-1800

A great book about an even greater book is a rare event in publishing. Robert Darnton’s history of the Encyclopédie is such an occasion. The author explores some fascinating territory in the French genre of histoire du livre, and at the same time he tracks the diffusion of Enlightenment ideas. He is concerned with the form of the thought of the great philosophes as it materialized into books and with the way books were made and distributed in the business of publishing. This is cultural history on a broad scale, a history of the process of civilization.

In tracing the publishing story of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, Darnton uses new sources—the papers of eighteenth-century publishers—that allow him to respond firmly to a set of problems long vexing historians. He shows how the material basis of literature and the technology of its production affected the substance and diffusion of ideas. He fully explores the workings of the literary market place, including the roles of publishers, book dealers, traveling salesmen, and other intermediaries in cultural communication. How publishing functioned as a business, and how it fit into the political as well as the economic systems of prerevolutionary Europe are set forth. The making of books touched on this vast range of activities because books were products of artisanal labor, objects of economic exchange, vehicles of ideas, and elements in political and religious conflict.

The ways ideas traveled in early modern Europe, the level of penetration of Enlightenment ideas in the society of the Old Regime, and the connections between the Enlightenment and the French Revolution are brilliantly treated by Darnton. In doing so he unearths a double paradox. It was the upper orders in society rather than the industrial bourgeoisie or the lower classes that first shook off archaic beliefs and took up Enlightenment ideas. And the state, which initially had suppressed those ideas, ultimately came to favor them. Yet at this high point in the diffusion and legitimation of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution erupted, destroying the social and political order in which the Enlightenment had flourished.

Never again will the contours of the Enlightenment be drawn without reference to this work. Darnton has written an indispensable book for historians of modern Europe.

Paperback available from Harvard University Press.

I. Introduction: The Biography of a Book
II. The Genesis of a Speculation in Publishing
The Neuchâtel Reprint Plan
From the Reprint to the Revised Edition
Joseph Duplain and His Quarto Encyclopédie
Publishing, Politics, and Panckoucke
From the Revised Edition to the Quarto
The Paris Conference of 1777
The Basis of a Bonne Affaire
III. Juggling Editions
The ‘‘Second Edition’’
The Origins of the “Third Edition”
The Neuchâtel Imprint
Opening Gambits of the Final Negotiations
Duel by Lettre Ostensible
The Last Turn of the Screw
The Contract
IV. Piracy and Trade War
Pirate Raids
The Octave Publishers and Their Encyclopédie
The Origins of the Quarto-Octavo War
The Final Failure of Diplomacy
Open War
Pourparlers for Peace
A Drôle de Paix
V. Bookmaking
Strains on the Production System
Procuring Paper
Recruiting Workers
Setting Wages
Pacing Work and Managing Labor
Printing : Technology and the Human Element
VI. Diffusion
Managerial Problems and Polemics
Prices and Consumers
The Sales Pattern
Subscribers, A Case Study
Diffusion in France
Diffusion Outside France
VII. Settling Accounts
The Hidden Schism of 1778
A Preliminary Règlement de Comptes
The Feud Between Duplain and the STN
Marketing Maneuvers
The Perrin Affair
The Anatomy of a Swindle
The Final Confrontation in Lyons
VIII. The Ultimate Encyclopédie
The Origins of the Encyclopédie méthodique
The Climactic Moment in Enlightenment Publishing
The Liégeois Settlement
Panckoucke’s Conception of the Supreme Encyclopédie
Panckoucke as an Editor
The Authors of the Méthodique
Two Generations of Encyclopedists
From Voltairianism to Professionalism
Launching the Biggest Book of the Century
IX. Encyclopedism, Capitalism, and Revolution
Panckoucke’s Folly
From Encyclopedism to Jacobinism
An Enlightenment Publisher in a Cultural Revolution
The Last of the Encyclopedists
X. Conclusion
The Production and Diffusion of Enlightenment
Enlightenment Publishing and the Spirit of Capitalism
The Encyclopédie and the State
The Cultural Revolution
A. Contracts of the Encyclopédie Publishers, 1776–1780
B. Subscriptions to the Quarto Encyclopédie
C. Incidence of Subscriptions in Major French Cities
D. Contributors to the Encyclopédie Méthodique
Bibliographical Note
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