A Study of Eighteenth Century Radicalism in France
By Max Pearson Cushing
Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, in the Faculty of Political Science, Columbia University
Press of The New Era Printing Company Lancaster, PA
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I. HOLBACH THE MAN.
Early Letters to John Wilkes.
Relations with Diderot, Rousseau, Hume, Garrick and other important persons of the century.
Estimate of Holbach. His character and personality.
CHAPTER II. HOLBACH'S WORKS.
Translations of German Scientific Works.
Translations of English Deistical Writers.
Boulanger's Antiquit dvoile.
Original Works: Le Christianisme devoil. Thologie portative. La Contagion sacre. Essai sur les prjugs. Le bons-sens.
CHAPTER III. THE Systme de la Nature AND ITS PHILOSOPHY.
Voltaire's correspondence on the subject.
Refutations and criticisms.
APPENDIX. HOLBACH'S CORRESPONDENCE.
Five unpublished letters to John Wilkes.
Part I. Editions of Holbach's works in Chronological Order.
Part II. General Bibliography.
A une extrme justesse d'esprit il joignait une simplicit de moeurs tout—fait antique et patriarcale.
J. A. Naigeon, Journal de Paris, le 9 fev. 1789
Diderot, writing to the Princess Dashkoff in 1771, thus analysed the spirit of his century:
Chaque sicle a son esprit qui le caractrise. L'esprit du ntre semble tre celui de la libert. La premire attaque contre la superstition a t violente, sans mesure. Une fois que les hommes ont os d'une manire quelconque donner l'assaut la barrire de la religion, cette barrire la plus formidable qui existe comme la plus respecte, il est impossible de s'arrter. Ds qu'ils ont tourn des regards menaants contre la majest du ciel, ils ne manqueront pas le moment d'aprs de les diriger contre la souverainet de la terre. Le cble qui tient et comprime l'humanit est form de deux cordes, l'une ne peut cder sans que l'autre vienne rompre. [Endnote 1:1]
The following study proposes to deal with this attack on religion that preceded and helped to prepare the French Revolution. Similar phenomena are by no means rare in the annals of history; eighteenth-century atheism, however, is of especial interest, standing as it does at the end of a long period of theological and ecclesiastical disintegration and prophesying a reconstruction of society on a purely rational and naturalistic basis. The anti-theistic movement has been so obscured by the less thoroughgoing tendency of deism and by subsequent romanticism that the real issue in the eighteenth century has been largely lost from view. Hence it has seemed fit to center this study about the man who stated the situation with the most unmistakable and uncompromising clearness, and who still occupies a unique though obscure position in the history of thought.
Holbach has been very much neglected by writers on the eighteenth century. He has no biographer. M. Walferdin wrote (in an edition of Diderot's Works, Paris, 1821, Vol. XII p. 115): "Nous nous occupons depuis longtemps rassembler les matriaux qui doivent servir venger la mmoire du philosophe de la patrie de Leibnitz, et dans l'ouvrage que nous nous proposons de publier sous le titre "D'Holbach jug par ses contemporains" nous esprons faire justement apprcier ce savant si estimable par la profondeur et la varit de ses connaissances, si prcieux sa famille et ses amis par la puret et la simplicit de ses moeurs, en qui la vertu tait devenue une habitude et la bienfaisance un besoin." This work has never appeared and M. Tourneux thinks that nothing of it was found among M. Walferdin's papers. [2:2] In 1834 Mr. James Watson published in an English translation of the Systme de la Nature, A Short Sketch of the Life and the Writings of Baron d'Holbach by Mr. Julian Hibbert, compiled especially for that edition from Saint Saurin's article in Michaud's Biographie Universelle (Paris, 1817, Vol. XX, pp. 460-467), from Barbier's Dict. des ouvrages anonymes (Paris, 1822) and from the preface to the Paris edition of the Systme de la Nature (4 vols., 18mo, 1821). This sketch was later published separately (London, 1834, 12mo, pp. 14) but on account of the author's sudden death it was left unfinished and is of no value from the point of view of scholarship. Another attempt to publish something on Holbach was made by Dr. Anthony C. Middleton of Boston in 1857. In the preface to his translation to the Lettres Eugenia he speaks of a "Biographical Memoir of Baron d'Holbach which I am now preparing for the press." If ever published at all this Memoir probably came to light in the Boston Investigator, a free-thinking magazine published by Josiah P. Mendum, 45 Cornhill, Boston, but it is not to be found. Mention should also be made of the fact that M. Asszat intended to include in a proposed study of Diderot and the philosophical movement, a chapter to be devoted to Holbach and his society; but this work has never appeared. [3:3]
Of the two works bearing Holbach's name as a title, one is a piece of libellous fiction by Mme. de Genlis, Les Diners du baron d'Holbach (Paris, 1822, 8vo), the other a romance pure and simple by F. T. Claudon (Paris, 1835, 2 vols., 8vo) called Le Baron d'Holbach, the events of which take place largely at his house and in which he plays the rle of a minor character. A good account of Holbach, though short and incidental, is to be found in M. Avzac-Lavigne's Diderot et la Socit du Baron d'Holbach (Paris, 1875, 8vo), and M. Armand Gast has a little book entitled Diderot et le cure de Montchauvet, une Mystification littraire chez le Baron d'Holbach (Paris, 1895, 16vo). There are several works which devote a chapter or section to Holbach. [3:4] The French critics and the histories of philosophy contain slight notices; Rosenkranz's "Diderot's Leben" devotes a chapter to Granval, Holbach's country seat, and life there as described by Diderot in his letters to Mlle. Volland; and he is included in such histories of ideas as Soury, J., "Brviaire de l'histoire de Matrialisme" (Paris, 1881) and Delvaille, J., Essai sur l'histoire de l'ide de progrs (Paris, 1910); but nowhere else is there anything more than the merest encyclopedic account, often defective and incorrect.
The sources are in a sense full and reliable for certain phases of his life and literary activity. His own publications, numbering about fifty, form the most important body of source material for the history and development of his ideas. Next in importance are contemporary memoirs and letters including those of Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Grimm, Morellet, Marmontel, Mme. d'Epinay, Naigeon, Garat, Galiani, Hume, Garrick, Wilkes, Romilly and others; and scattered letters by Holbach himself, largely to his English friends. In addition there is a large body of contemporary hostile criticism of his books, by Voltaire, Frederick II, Castillon, Holland, La Harpe, Delisle de Sales and a host of outraged ecclesiastics, so that one is well informed in regard to the scandal that his books caused at the time. Out of these materials and other scattered documents and notices it is possible to reconstruct—though somewhat defectively—the figure of a man who played an important rle in his own day; but whose name has long since lost its significance—even in the ears of scholars. It is at the suggestion of Professor James Harvey Robinson that this reconstruction has been made. If it shall prove of any interest or value he must be credited with the initiation of the idea as well as constant aid in its realization. For rendering possible the necessary investigations, recognition is due to the administration and officers of the Bibliothque Nationale, the British Museum, the Library of Congress, the Libraries of Columbia and Harvard Universities, Union and Andover Theological Seminaries, and the Public Libraries of Boston and New York.
M. P. C.
NEW YORK CITY,
CHAPTER I. HOLBACH, THE MAN.
Paul Heinrich Dietrich, or as he is better known, Paul-Henri Thiry, baron d'Holbach, was born in January, 1723, in the little village of Heidelsheim (N.W. of Carlsruhe) in the Palatinate. Of his parentage and youth nothing is known except that his father, a rich parvenu, according to Rousseau, [5:5] brought him to Paris at the age of twelve, where he received the greater part of his education. His father died when Holbach was still a young man. It may be doubted if young Holbach inherited his title and estates immediately as there was an uncle "Messire Francois-Adam, Baron d'Holbach, Seigneur de Heze, Lende et autres Lieux" who lived in the rue Neuve S. Augustin and died in 1753. His funeral was held at Saint-Roch, his parish church, Thursday, September 16th, where he was afterward entombed. [5:6] Holbach was a student in the University of Leyden in 1746 and spent a good deal of time at his uncle's estate at Heze, a little town in the province of North Brabant (S.E. of Eindhoven). He also traveled and studied in Germany. There are two manuscript letters in the British Museum (Folio 30867, pp. 14, 18, 20) addressed by Holbach to John Wilkes, which throw some light on his school-days. It is interesting to note that most of Holbach's friends were young Englishmen of whom there were some twenty-five at the University of Leyden at that time. [6:7] Already at the age of twenty-three Holbach was writing very good English, and all his life he was a friend of Englishmen and English ideas. His friendship for Wilkes, then a lad of nineteen, lasted all his life and increased in intimacy and dignity. The two letters following are of interest because they are the only documents we have bearing on Holbach's early manhood. They reveal a certain sympathy and feeling—rather gushing to be sure—quite unlike anything in his later writings, and quite out of line with the supposedly cold temper of a materialist and an atheist.
[Footnote: These letters, contrary to modern usage, are printed with all the peculiarities of eighteenth century orthography. It was felt that they would lose their quaintness and charm if Holbach's somewhat fantastic English were trifled with or his spelling, capitalization and punctuation modernized.]
HOLBACH TO WILKES
HEZE Aug. 9, 1746
I should not have felt by half enough the pleasure your kind letter gave me, If I had words to express it; I never doubted of your friendship, nor I hope do you know me so little as to doubt of mine, but your letter is full of such favorable sentiments to me that I must own I cannot repay them but by renewing to you the entire gift of my heart that has been yours ever since heaven favour'd me with your acquaintance. I need not tell you the sorrow our parting gave me, in vain Philosophy cried aloud nature was still stronger and the philosopher was forced to yield to the friend, even now I feel the wound is not cur'd. Therefore no more of that—Hope is my motto. Telling me you are happy you make me so but in the middle of your happiness you dont forget your friend, What flattering thought to me! Such are the charms of friendship every event is shar'd and nothing nor even the greatest intervals are able to interrupt the happy harmony of truly united minds. I left Leyden about 8 or 10 days after you but before my departure I thought myself obliged to let Mr Dowdenwell know what you told me, he has seen the two letters Mr Johnson had received and I have been mediator of ye peace made betwixt the 2 parties, I don't doubt but you have seen by this time Messrs Bland & Weatherill who were to set out for Engelland the same week I parted with them. When I was leaving Leyden Mr Vernon happen'd to tell me he had a great mind to make a trip to Spa. So my uncles' estate being on ye road I desir'd him to come along with me, he has been here a week and went on afterwards in his journey, at my arrival here, I found that General Count Palfi with an infinite number of military attendants had taken possession of my uncles' house, and that the 16 thousd men lately come from Germany to strengthen the allies army, commanded by Count Bathiani and that had left ye neighborhood of Breda a few days before and was come to Falkenswert (where you have past in your journey to Spa) one hour from hence. Prince Charles arrived here the same day from Germany to take ye command of the allies, the next Day the whole army amounting to 70thd men went on towards the county of Lige to prevent the French from beseiging Namur, I hear now that the two armies are only one hour from another, so we expect very soon the news of a great battle but not without fear, Count Saxes army being, by all account of hundred ten thoud. men besides. Prince Counti's army of 50 thd. this latter General is now employ'd at the siege of Charleroy, that can't resist a long while, it is a report that the King of France is arrived in his army, I hope this long account will entertain you for want of news papers: Mr. Dowdeswell being left alone of our club at Leyden I Desir'd him to come and spend with me the time of his vacations here, which proposal I hope he will accept and be here next week. What happy triumvirat would be ours if you were to join: but that is impossible at present; however those who cant enjoy reality are fond of feeding their fancies with agreable Dreams and charming pictures; that helps a little to sooth the sorrow of absence and makes one expect with more pati[ence] till fortune allows him to put in execution the cherish'd systems he has been fed upon fore some [time] I shall expect with great many thanks the books you are to send me; it will be for me a dubble pleasure to read them, being of your choice which I value as much as it deserves, and looking at them as upon a new proof of your benevolence, as to those I design'd to get from Paris for you, I heard I could not get them before my uncles' return hither all commerce being stopt by the way betwixt this country and France.
A few days before my departure from Leyden I receiv'd a letter from Mr Freeman from Berlin, he seams vastly pleas'd with our Germany, and chiefly with Hambourg where a beautiful lady has taken in his heart the room of poor Mss. Vitsiavius, my prophesy was just; traveling seems to have alter'd a good deal his melancholy disposition as I may conjecture by his way of writing. He desired his service to you. As to me, Idleness renders me every day more philosopher every passion is languishing within me, I retain but one in a warm degree, viz, friendship in which you share no small part. I took a whim to study a little Physic accordingly I purchased several books in that Way, and my empty hours here are employ'd with them. I am sure your time will be much better employ'd at Alesbury you'll find there a much nobler entertainment Cupid is by far Lovlier than Esculapius, however I shall not envy your happiness, in the Contrary I wish that all your desires be crown'd with success, that a Passion that proves fatal to great many of men be void of sorrow for you, that all the paths of love be spred over with flowers in one Word that you may not address in vain to the charming Mss. M. I am almost tempted to fall in love with that unknown beauty, 't would not be quite like Don Quixotte for your liking to her would be for me a very strong prejudice of her merit, which the poor Knight had not in his love for Dulcinea.
I shall not ask your pardon for the length of this letter I am sure friendship will forgive the time I steal to Love however I cannot give up so easily a conversation with a true friend with whom I fancy to speak yet in one of those delightfull evening walks at Leyden. It is a dream, I own it, but it is so agreable one to me that nothing but reality could be compared to the pleasure I feel: let me therefore insist a little more upon't and travel with my Letter, we are gone! I think to be at Alesbury! there I see my Dear Wilkes! What a Flurry of Panions! Joy! fear of a second parting! what charming tears! what sincere Kisses!—but time flows and the end of this Love is now as unwelcome to me, as would be to another to be awaken'd in the middle of a Dream wherein he is going to enjoy a beloved mistress; the enchantment ceases, the delightfull images vanish, and nothing is left to me but friendship, which is of all my possessions the fairest, and the surest, I am most sincerely Dear Wilkes
Your affectionate friend and humble servant DE HOLBACH Heze the 9th august 1746 N. S.
I shall expect with impatience the letter you are to write me from Alesbury. Will it be here very soon!
HOLBACH TO WILKES [HEZE Dec. 3rd. 1746]
During a little voyage I have made into Germany I have received your charming letter of the 8th. September O. S. the many affairs I have been busy with for these 3 months has hindered me hitherto from returning to you as speedy an answer as I should have done. I know too much your kindness for me to make any farther apology and I hope you are enough acquainted with the sincerety of my friendship towards you to adscribe my fault to forgetfulness or want of gratitude be sure, Dear friend, that such a disposition will allways be unknown to me in regard to you. I don't doubt but you will be by this time returned at London, the winter season being an obstacle to the pleasures you have enjoyed following ye Letter at Alesbury during the last Autumn. I must own I have felt a good deal of pride when you gave me the kind assurance that love has not made you forget an old friend, I need not tell you my disposition. I hope you know it well enough and like my friendship for you has no bounds I want expressions to show it. Mr Dowdeswell has been so good as to let me enjoy his company here in the month of August, and returned to Leyden to pursue his studies in the middle of September. We often wished your company and made sincere libations to you with burgundy and Champaigne I had a few weeks there after I set out for Germany where I expected to spend the whole winter but the sudden death of my Uncle's Steward has forced me to come back here to put in order the affairs of this estate, I don't know how long I shall be obliged to stay in the meanwhile I act pretty well the part of a County Squire, id est, hunting, shooting, fishing, walking every day without to lay aside the ever charming conversation of Horace Virgil Homer and all our noble friends of the Elysian fields. They are allways faithfull to me, with their aid I find very well how to employ my time, but I want in this country a true bosom friend like my dear Wilkes to converse with, but my pretenssions are too high, for every abode with such a company would be heaven for me.
I perceive by your last letter that your hopes are very like to succeed by Mss Mead, you are sure that every happines that can befall to you will make me vastly happy. I beseech you therefore to let me know everytime how far you are gone, I take it to be a very good omen for you, that your lovely mistress out of compliance has vouchsafed to learn a harsh high-dutch name, which would otherwise have made her starttle, at the very hearing of it. I am very thankful for her kind desire of seeing me in Engelland which I dont wish the less but you know my circumstances enough, to guess that I cannot follow my inclinations. I have not heard hitherto anything about the books you have been so kind as to send me over by the opportunity of a friend. I have wrote about it to Msrs Conrad et Bouwer of Rotterdam, they answered that they were not yet there. Nevertheless I am very much oblided to you for your kindness and wish to find very soon the opportunity of my revenge. Mr Dowderswell complains very much of Mrs Bland and Weatherill, having not heard of them since their departure from Leyden. I desire my compliments to Mr Dyer and all our old acquaintances. Pray be so good as to direct your first letter under the covert of Mr Dowderwell at Ms Alliaume's at Leyden he shall send it to me over immediately, no more at Mr Van Sprang's like you used to do. I wish to know if Mr Lyson since his return to his native country, continues in his peevish cross temper. If you have any news besides I'll be glad to hear them by your next which I expect very soon.
About politicks I cannot tell you anything at present, you have heard enough by this time the fatal battle fought near Lige in 8ber last; everybody has little hopes of the Congress of Breda, the Austrian and Piedmontese are entered into provence, which is not as difficult as to maintain themselves therein, I wish a speedy peace would enable us both to see the rejoicings that will attend the marriage of the Dauphin of France with a Princess of Saxony. I have heard that peace is made between England and Spain, which you ought to know better than I. We fear very much for the next campaign the siege of Maestrich in our neighborhood. These are all the news I know. I'll tell you another that you have known a long while viz. that nobody is with more sincerity My Dear Wilkes
Your faithfull humble Servant and Friend HOLBACH Heeze the 3 d Xber 1746 ns
By 1750 Holbach was established in Paris as a young man of the world. His fortune, his learning, his sociability attracted the younger literary set toward him. In 1749 he was already holding his Thursday dinners which later became so famous. Among his early friends were Diderot, Rousseau and Grimm. With them he took the side of the Italian Opera buffa in the famous musical quarrel of 1752, and published two witty brochures ridiculing French music. [12:9] He was an art connoisseur and bought Oudry's Chienne allaitant ses petits, the chef d'oeuvre of the Salon of 1753. [12:10] During these years he was hard at work at his chosen sciences of chemistry and mineralogy. In 1752 he published in a huge volume in quarto with excellent plates, a translation of Antonio Neri's Art of Glass making, and in 1753 a translation of Wallerius' Mineralogy. On July 26, 1754, the Academy of Berlin made him a foreign associate in recognition of his scholarly attainments in Natural History, [12:11] and later he was elected to the Academies of St. Petersburg and Mannheim.
All that was now lacking to this brilliant young man was an attractive wife to rule over his salon. His friends urged him to wed, and in 1753 he married Mlle. Basile-Genevieve-Susanne d'Aine, daughter of "Matre Marius-Jean-Baptiste Nicolas d'Aine, conseiller au Roi en son grand conseil, associ externe de l'Acad. des sciences et belles letters de Prusse." [12:12] M. d'Aine was also Matre des Requtes and a man of means. Mme. d'Holbach was a very charming and gracious woman and Holbach's good fortune seemed complete when suddenly Mme. d'Holbach died from a most loathsome and painful disease in the summer of 1754. Holbach was heart-broken and took a trip through the provinces with his friend Grimm, to whom he was much attached, to distract his mind from his grief. He returned in the early winter and the next year (1755) got a special dispensation from the Pope to marry his deceased wife's sister, Mlle. Charlotte-Susanne d'Aine. By her he had four children, two sons and two daughters. The first, Charles-Marius, was born about the middle of August, 1757, and baptized in Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, Aug. 22. He inherited the family title and was a captain in the regiment of the Schomberg-Dragons. [13:13] The first daughter was born towards the end of 1758 and the second about the middle of Jan., 1760. [13:14] The elder married the Marquis de Chtenay and the younger the Marquis de Nolivos, "Captaine au rgiment de la Seurre, Dragons." Their Majesties the King and Queen and the Royal Family signed their marriage contract May 27, 1781. [13:15] Of the second son there seem to be no traces. Holbach's mother-in-law, Madame d'Aine, was a very interesting old woman as she is pictured in Diderot's Mmoires, and there was a brother-in-law, "Messire Marius-Jean-Baptiste-Nicholas d'Aine, chevalier, conseiller du roi en ses conseils, Matre des requtes honoraire de son htel, intendant de justice, police, et finances de la gnralit de Tours," who lived in rue Saint Dominique, paroisse Saint-Sulpice. There was in Holbach's household for a long time an old Scotch surgeon, a homeless, misanthropic old fellow by the name of Hope, of whom Diderot gives a most interesting account. [14:16] These are the only names we have of the personnel of Holbach's household. His town house was in the rue Royale, butte Saint-Roch. It was here that for an almost unbroken period of forty years he gave his Sunday and Thursday dinners. The latter day was known to the more intimate set of encyclopedists as the jour du synagogue. Here the glise philosophique met regularly to discuss its doctrines and publish its propaganda of radicalism.
Holbach had a very pleasant country seat, the chteau of Grandval, now in the arrondisement of Boissy St. Lger at Sucy-en-Brie. It is pleasantly situated in the valley of a little stream, the Morbra, which flows into the Marne. The property was really the estate of Mme. d'Aine who lived with the Holbachs. Here the family and their numerous guests passed the late summer and fall. Here Diderot spent weeks at a time working on the Encyclopedia, dining, and walking on the steep slopes of the Marne with congenial companions. To him we are indebted for our intimate knowledge of Grandval and its inhabitants, their slightest doings and conversations; and as Danou has well said, if we were to wish ourselves back in any past age we should choose with many others the mid-eighteenth century and the charming society of Paris and Grandval. [14:17]
Holbach's life, in common with that of most philosophers, offers no events, except that he came near being killed in the crush and riot in the rue Royale that followed the fire at the Dauphin's wedding in 1770. [15:18] He was never an official personage. His entire life was spent in study, writing and conversation with his friends. He traveled very little; the world came to him, to the Caf de l'Europe, as Abb Galiani called Paris. From time to time Holbach went to Contrexville for his gout and once to England to visit David Garrick; but he disliked England very thoroughly and was glad to get back to Paris. The events of his life in so far as there were any, were his relations with people. He knew intimately practically all the great men of his century, except Montesquieu and Voltaire, who were off the stage before his day. [15:19] Holbach's most intimate and life-long friend among the great figures of the century was Diderot, of whom Rousseau said, " la distance de quelques sicles du moment o il a vcu, Diderot paratra un homme prodigieux; on regardera de loin cette tte universelle avec une admiration mle d'tonnement, comme nous regardons aujourd'hui la tte des Platon et des Aristote." [15:20] All his contemporaries agreed that nothing was so charged with divine fire as the conversation of Diderot. Gautherin, in his fine bronze of him on the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prs, seems to have caught the spirit of his talk and has depicted him as he might have sat in the midst of Holbach's society, of which he was the inspiration and the soul. Holbach backed Diderot financially in his great literary and scientific undertaking and provided articles for the Encyclopedia on chemistry and natural science. Diderot had a high opinion of his erudition and said of him, "Quelque systme que forge mon imagination, je suis sur que mon ami d'Holbach me trouve des faits et des autorits pour le justifier." [16:21] Opinions differ in regard to the intellectual influence of these men upon each other. Diderot was without doubt the greater thinker, but Holbach stated his atheism with far greater clarity and Diderot gave his sanction to it by embellishing Holbach's books with a few eloquent pages of his own. Diderot said to Sir Samuel Romilly in 1781, "Il faut sabrer la thologie," [16:22] and died in 1784 in the belief that complete infidelity was the first step toward philosophy. Five years later Holbach was buried by his side in the crypt of the Chapel of the Virgin behind the high altar in Saint-Roch. No tablet marks their tombs, and although repeated investigations have been made no light has been thrown on the exact position of their burial place. According to Diderot's daughter, Mme. Vandeuil, their entire correspondence has been destroyed or lost. [16:23]
Holbach's relations with Rousseau were less harmonious. The account of their mutual misunderstandings contained in the Confessions, in a letter by Cerutti in the Journal de Paris Dec. 2, 1789, and in private letters of Holbach's to Hume, Garrick, and Wilkes, is a long and tiresome tale. The author of Eclaircissements relatifs la publication des confessions de Rousseau... (Paris, 1789) blames the club holbachique for their treatment of Rousseau, but the fault seems to lie on both sides. According to Rousseau's account, Holbach sought his friendship and for a few years he was one of Holbach's society. But, after the success of the Devin du Village in 1753, the holbachiens turned against him out of jealousy of his genius as a composer. Visions of a dark plot against him rose before his fevered and sensitive imagination, and after 1756 he left the Society of the Encyclopedists, never to return. Holbach, on the other hand, while admitting rather questionable treatment of Rousseau, never speaks of any personal injury on his part, and bewails the fact that "l'homme le plus loquent s'est rendu ainsi l'homme le plus anti-littraire, et l'homme le plus sensible s'est rendu le plus anti-social." [17:24] He did warn Hume against taking him to England, and in a letter to Wilkes predicted the quarrel that took place shortly after. In writing to Garrick [17:25] he says some hard but true things about Rousseau, who on his part never really defamed Holbach but depicted him as the virtuous atheist under the guise of Wolmar in the Nouvelle Helose. Their personal incompatibility is best explained on the grounds of the radical differences in their temperaments and types of mind and by the fact that Rousseau was too sensitive to get on with anybody for any great length of time.
Two other great Frenchmen, Buffon and d'Alembert, were for a time members of Holbach's society, but, for reasons that are not altogether clear, gradually withdrew. Grimm suggests that Buffon did not find the young philosophers sufficiently deferential to him and to the authorized powers, and feared for his dignity,—and safety, in their company. D'Alembert, on the other hand, was a recluse by nature, and, after giving up his editorship on the Encyclopedia, easily dropped out of Diderot's society and devoted himself to Mlle. Lespinasse and Mme. Geoffrin. Holbach and Helvetius were life-long friends and spent much time together reading at Helvetius's country place at Vor. After his death in 1774, Holbach frequented Mme. Helvetius' salon where he knew and deeply influenced Volney, Cabanis, de Tracy, and the first generation of the Ideologists who continued his and Helvetius' philosophical doctrines. Among the other Frenchmen of the day who were on intimate relations with Holbach and frequented his salon were La Condamine, Condillac, Condorcet, Turgot, Morellet, Raynal, Grimm, Marmontel, Colardeau, Saurin, Suard, Saint-Lambert, Thomas, Duclos, Chastellux, Boulanger, Darcet, Roux, Rouelle, Barths, Venel, Leroy, Damilaville, Naigeon, Lagrange and lesser names,—but well known in Paris in the eighteenth century,—d'Alinville, Chauvelin, Desmahis, Gauffecourt, Margency, de Croismare, de Pezay, Coyer, de Valory, Charnoi, not to mention a host of others.
Among Holbach's most intimate English friends were Hume, Garrick, Wilkes, Sterne, Gibbon, Horace Walpole, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Priestley, Lord Shelburne, Gen. Barr, Gen. Clark, Sir James MacDonald, Dr. Gem, Messrs. Stewart, Demster, Fordyce, Fitzmaurice, Foley, etc. Holbach addressed a letter to Hume in 1762, before making his acquaintance, in which he expressed his admiration of his philosophy and the desire to know him personally. [18:26] In 1764 Hume came to Paris as secretary of the British Embassy and immediately called on Holbach and became a regular frequenter of his salon. It was to Holbach that he wrote first on the outbreak of his quarrel with Rousseau and they corresponded at length in egard to the publication of the Expos succinct, which was to justify Hume in the eyes of the French. Hume and Holbach had much in common intellectually, although the latter was far more thoroughgoing in his repudiation of Theism.
David Garrick and his wife were frequent visitors at the rue Royale on their trips to Paris where they were very much liked by Holbach's society. Nothing is more cordial or gracious than the compliments passed between them in their subsequent correspondence. There are two published letters from Holbach in Mr. Hedgecock's recent study of Garrick and his French friends, excellent examples of the happy spontaneity and sympathy that were characteristic of French sociability in the eighteenth century. [19:27] Holbach in turn spent several months with Garrick at Hampton.
Holbach's early friendship for Wilkes has already been mentioned. Wilkes spent a great deal of time in Paris on the occasion of his exiles from England and became very intimate with Holbach. They corresponded up to the very end of Holbach's life and there was a constant interchange of friendly offices between them. [19:28] Miss Wilkes, who spent much time in Paris, was a very good friend of Mme. Holbach and Mlle. Helvetius. Adam Smith often dined at Holbach's with Turgot and the economists; Gibbon also found his dinners agreeable except for the dogmatism of the atheists; Walpole resented it also and kept away. Priestley seems to have gotten on very well, although the philosophers found his materialism and unitarianism a trifle inconsistent. It was at Holbach's that Shelburne met Morellet with whom he carried on a long and serious correspondence on economics. There seem to be no details of Holbach's relations with Franklin, who was evidently more assiduous at the salon of Mme. Helvetius whom he desired to marry.
Holbach's best friend among the Italians was Abb Galiani, secretary of the Neapolitan Embassy, who spent ten years in the salons of Paris. After his return to Naples his longing for Paris led him to a voluminous correspondence with his French friends including Holbach. A few of their letters are extant. Beccaria also came to Paris at the invitation of the translator of his Crimes and Punishments, Abb Morellet, made on behalf of Holbach and his society. Beccaria and his friend Veri, who accompanied him, had long been admirers of French philosophy, and the Frenchmen found much to admire in Beccaria's book. One avocat-gnral, M. Servan of the Parlement of Bordeaux, a friend of Holbach's, tried to put his reforms in practice and shared the fate of most reformers. Holbach was also in correspondence with Beccaria, and one of his letters has been published in M. Landry's recent study of Beccaria.
Among the other Italians whom Holbach befriended were Paulo Frizi, the mathematician; Dr. Gatti; Pincini, the musician; and Mme. Riccoboni, ex-actress and novelist; whose lively correspondence with Garrick whom she met at Holbach's sheds much light on the social relations of the century.
Among the other foreigners who were friends or acquaintances of Holbach were his fellow countrymen, Frederich Melchon Grimm, like himself a naturalized Frenchman and the bosom friend of Diderot; Meister, his collaborator in the Literary Correspondence; Kohant, a Bohemian musician, composer, of the Bergre des Alpes and Mme. Holbach's lute-teacher; Baron Gleichen, Comte de Creutz, Danish and Scandinavian diplomats; and a number of German nobles; the hereditary princes of Brunswick and Saxe Gotha, Baron Alaberg, afterwards elector of Mayence, Baron Schomberg and Baron Studitz.
Among the well known women of the century Holbach was most intimate with Mme. d'Epinay, who became a very good friend of Mme. Holbach's and was present at the birth of her first son, and, in her will, left her a portrait by Rembrandt. He was also a friend of Mme. Geoffrin, attended her salon, and knew Mlle. de Lespinasse, Mme. Houderot and most of the important women of the day.
There are excellent sources from which to form an estimate of this man whose house was the social centre of the century. Just after Holbach's death on January 21, 1789, Naigeon, his literary agent, who had lived on terms of the greatest intimacy with him for twenty-four years, wrote a long eulogy which filled the issue of the Journal de Paris for Feb. 9. There was another letter to the Journal on Feb. 12. Grimm's Correspondance Littraire for March contains a long account of him by Meister, and there are other notices in contemporary memoirs such as Morellet's and Marmontel's. All these accounts agree in picturing him as the most admirable of men.
It must be remembered that Holbach always enjoyed what was held to be a considerable fortune in his day. From his estates in Westphalia he had a yearly income of 60,000 livres which he spent in entertaining. This freedom from economic pressure gave him leisure to devote his time to his chosen intellectual pursuits and to his friends. He was a universally learned man. He knew French, German, English, Italian and Latin extremely well and had a fine private library of about three thousand works often of several volumes each, in these languages and in Greek and Hebrew. The catalogue of this library was published by Debure in 1789. It would be difficult to imagine a more comprehensive and complete collection of its size. He had also a rich collection of drawings by the best masters, fine pictures of which he was a connoisseur, bronzes, marbles, porcelains and a natural history cabinet, so in vogue in those days, containing some very valuable specimens. He was one of the most learned men of his day in natural science, especially chemistry and mineralogy, and to his translations from the best German scientific works is largely due the spread of scientific learning in France in the eighteenth century. Holbach was also very widely read in English theology and philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and derived his anti-theological inspiration from these two sources. To this vast fund of learning, he joined an extreme modesty and simplicity. He sought no academic honors, published all his works anonymously, and, had it not been for the pleasure he took in communicating his ideas to his friends, no one would have suspected his great erudition. He had an extraordinary memory and the reputation of never forgetting anything of interest. This plenitude of information, coupled with his easy and pleasant manner of talking, made his society much sought after. Naigeon said of him (in his preface to the works of Lagrange):
Personne n'tait plus communicatif que M. le baron d'Holbach; personne ne prenait aux progrs de la raison un intrt plus vif, plus sincre, et ne s'occupait avec plus de zle et l'activit des moyens de les acclrer.
galement vers dans la plupart des matires sur lesquelles il importe le plus des tres raisonnables d'avoir une opinion arrte, M. le baron d'Holbach portait dans leur discussion un jugement sain, une logique svre, et une analyse exacte et prcise. Quelque fut l'objet de ses entretiens avec ses amis, ou mme avec des indiffrens, tels qu'en offrent plus ou moins toutes les socits; il inspirait sans effort ceux qui l'coutaient l'enthousiasme de l'art ou de la science dont il parlait; et on ne le quittait jamais sans regretter de n'avoir pas cultiv la branche particulire de connaissances qui avait fait le sujet de la conversation, sans dsirer d'tre plus instruit, plus clair, et surtout sans admirer la claret, la justesse de son esprit, et l'ordre dans lequel il savait prsenter ses ides.
This virtue of communicativeness, of sociabilit, Holbach carried into all the relations of life. He was always glad to lend or give his books to anyone who could make use of them. "Je suis riche," he used to say, "mais je ne vois dans la fortune qu'un instrument de plus pour oprer le bien plus promptement et plus efficacement." In fact Holbach's whole principle of life and action was to increase the store of human well being. And he did this without any religious motive whatsoever. As Julie says of Wolmar in La Nouvelle Helose, "Il fait le bien sans espoir de rcompense, il est plus vertueux, plus dsintress que nous." There are many recorded instances of Holbach's gracious benevolence. As he said to Helvetius, "Vous tes brouill avec tous ceux que vous avez oblig, mais j'ai gard tous mes amis." Holbach had the faculty of attaching people to him. Diderot tells how at the Salon of 1753 after Holbach had bought Oudry's famous picture, all the collectors who had passed it by came to him and offered him twice what he paid for it. Holbach went to find the artist to ask him permission to cede the picture to his profit, but Oudry refused, saying that he was only too happy that his best work belonged to the man who was the first to appreciate it. Instances of Holbach's liberality to Kohant, a poor musician, and to Suard, a poor literary man, are to be found in the pages of Diderot and Meister, and his constant generosity to his friends is a commonplace in their Memoirs and Correspondence. Only Rousseau was ungrateful enough to complain that Holbach's free-handed gifts insulted his poverty. His kindness to Lagrange, a young literary man whom he rescued from want, has been well told by M. Naigeon in the preface to the works of Lagrange (p. xviii).
But perhaps the most touching instances of Holbach's benevolence are his relations with the peasants of Contrexville, one of which was published in the Journal de Lecture, 1775, the other in an anonymous letter to the Journal de Paris, Feb. 12, 1789. The first concerns the reconciliation of two old peasants who, not wanting to go to court, brought their differences to their respected friend for a settlement. Nothing is more simple and beautiful than this homely tale as told in a letter of Holbach's to a friend of his. The second, which John Wilkes said ought to be written in letters of gold, deserves to be reproduced as a whole.
L'loge funbre que M. Naigeon a consacr la mmoire de M. le Baron d'Holbach suffit pour donner une ide juste de ses lumires, mais le hasard m'a mis porte de les juger encore mieux. J'ai vu M. le Baron d'Holbach dans deux voyages que j'ai faits aux eaux de Contrexville. S'occuper de sa souffrance et de sa gurison, c'est le soin de chaque malade. M. le Baron d'Holbach devenait le mdecin, l'ami, le consolateur de quiconque venait aux eaux et il semblait bien moins occup de ses infirmits que de celles des autres. Lorsque des malades indigens manquaient de secours, ou pcuniaires ou curatifs, il les leur procurait avec un plaisir qui lui faisait plus de bien que les eaux. Je me promenais un soir avec lui sur une hauteur couverte d'un massif de bois qui fait perspective de loin et prs duquel s'lve un petit Hermitage. L, demeure un cnobite qui n'a de revenu que les aumnes de ceux dont il reoit les visites. Nous acquittmes chacun notre dette hospitalire. En prenant cong de l'Hermite, M. le Baron d'Holbach me dit de le prcder un instant et qu'il allait me suivre. Je le prcdai, et comme il ne me suivait pas je m'arrtai, pour l'attendre sur un terte exhauss d'o l'on dcouvre tout le pays. Je contemplais le canton que je dominais, plong dans une douce rverie. J'en fus tir par des cris et je me retournai vers l'endroit d'u ils partaient. Je vis M. le Baron d'Holbach environn d'une vieille femme et de deux villageois, l'un vieux comme elle et l'autre jeune. Tous trois, les larmes aux yeux, l'embrassaient hautement. Allez vous-en donc, s'crait M. le Baron d'Holbach; laissez moi, on m'attend, ne me suivez pas, adieu; je reviendrai l'anne prochaine. En me voyant arriver vers eux, les trois personnes reconnaissantes disparurent. Je lui demandai le sujet de tant de bndictions. Ce jeune paysan que vous avez vu s'etait engag, j'ai obtenu de son colonel sa libert en payant les cents cus prescrits par l'ordonnance. Il est amoureux d'une jeune paysanne aussi pauvre que lui, je viens d'acheter pour eux un petit bien qui m'a cot huit cent francs. Le vieux pre est perclus, aux deux bras, de rhumatismes, je lui ai fourni trois botes du baume des Valdejeots, si estim en ce pays-ci. La vieille mre est sujett des maux d'estomac, et je lui ai apport un pot de confection d'hyacinthe. Ils travaillaient dans le champ, voisin du bois, je suis all les voir tandis que vous marchiez en avant. Ils m'ont suivi malgr moi. Ne parlez de cela personne. On dirait que je veux faire le gnreux et le bon philosophe, mais je ne suis que humain, et mes charits sont la plus agrable dpense de mes voyages.
This humanity of Holbach's is the very keynote of his character and of his intellectual life as well. As M. Walferdin has said, the denial of the supernatural was for him the base of all virtue, and resting on this principle, he exemplified social qualities that do the greatest honor to human nature. He and Madame Holbach are the only conspicuous examples of conjugal fidelity and happiness among all the people that one has occasion to mention in a study of the intellectual and literary circles of the eighteenth century. They were devoted to each other, to their children and to their friends. Considering the traits of Holbach's character that have been cited, there can scarcely be two opinions in regard to completeness with which he realized his ideal of humanity and sociability. M. Naigeon has well summed up in a few words Holbach's relation to the only duties that he recognized, "He was a good husband, a good father and a good friend."
CHAPTER II. HOLBACH'S WORKS.
Holbach's published works, with the exception of a few scattered ones, may be divided into three classes, viz., translations of German scientific works, translations of English deistical writings, and his own works on theology, philosophy, politics and morals. Those which fall into none of these categories can be dealt with very summarily. They are:
1. Two pamphlets on the musical dispute of 1752; Lettre une dame d'un certain ge sur l'tat prsent de l'Opra, (8vo, pp. 11) and Arrt rendu l'amphithtre de l'Opra, (8vo, pp. 16,) both directed against French music and in line with Grimm's Petit Prophte and Rousseau's Lettre sur la musique franaise.
2. A translation in prose of Akenside's The Pleasures of Imagination (Paris, 1759, 8vo).
3. A translation of Swift's History of the Reign of Queen Anne in collaboration with M. Eidous (Amsterdam, 1765, 12mo, pp. xxiv + 416).
4. Translations of an Ode on Human Life and a Hymn to the Sun in the Varits littraires (1768).
5. Articles on natural science in the Encyclopdie and article Prononciation des langues in the Dictionnaire de Grammaire of the Encyclopdie mthodique.
6. Translation of Wallerius' Agriculture reduced to its true principles (Paris, 1774, 12mo).
7. Two Facties philosophiques published in Grimm's Correspondence Littraire. L'Abb et le Rabbin, and Essai sur l'art de ramper, l'usage des courtisans.
8. Parts of Raynal's Histoire philosophique des deux Indes.
9. Notes to Lagrange's Vie de Senque.
Holbach's translations of German scientific works are as follows: (Complete titles to be found in Bibliography, Pt. I.)
1. Art de la Verrerie de Neri, Merret, et Kunckel (Paris, Durand, 1752). Original work in Italian. Latin translation by Christopher Merret. German translation by J. Kunckel of Lwenstern. Holbach's translation comprises the seven books of Antionio Neri, Merret's notes on Neri, Kunckel's observations on both these authors, his own experiments and others relative to glass-making. The translation was dedicated to Malesherbes who had desired to see the best German scientific works published in French. In his Prface du Traducteur Holbach writes:
L'envie de me rendre utile, dont tout citoyen doit tre anim, m'a fait entreprendre l'ouvrage que je prsente au Public. S'il a le bonheur de mriter son approbation, quoiqu'il y ait peu de gloire attache au travail ingrat et fastidieux d'un Traducteur, je me dterminerai donner les meilleurs ouvrages allemands, sur l'Histoire Naturelle, la Minralogie, la Mtallurgie et la Chymie. Tout le monde sait que l'Allemagne possede en ce genre des trsors qui ont t jusqu'ici comme enfouis pour la France.
2. Minralogie ou Description gnrale du rgne mineral par J. G. Wallerius (Paris, Durand, 1753) followed by Hydrologie by the same author. Second edition, Paris, Herrissant, 1759. Originally in Swedish (Wallerius was a professor of chemistry in the University of Upsala). German translation by J. D. Denso, Professor of Chemistry, Stargard, Pomerania. Holbach's translation was made from the German edition which Wallerius considered preferable to the Swedish. He was assisted by Bernard de Jussien and Rouelle, and the work was dedicated to a friend and co-worker in the natural sciences, Monsieur d'Arclais de Montamy.
3. Introduction la Minralogie... oeuvre posthume de M. J. F. Henckel, Paris, Cavelier, 1756, first published under title Henckelius in Mineralogi redivivus, Dresden, 1747, by his pupil, M. Stephani, as an outline of his lectures. Holbach's translation made from a German edition, corrected, with notes on new discoveries added.
4. Chimie mtallurgique... par M. C. Gellert. Paris, Briasson, 1758, translated earlier. Approbation May 1, 1753, Privilege Dec. 21, 1754. Originally a text written by Gellert for four artillery officers whom the King of Sardinia sent to Freyburg to learn mining-engineering.
5. Traits de physique, d'histoire naturelle, de mineralogy et de mtallurgie. Paris, Herrissant, 1759, by J. G. Lehmann, three vols. I. L'Art des Mines, II. Trait de la formation des mtaux, III. Essai d'une histoire naturelle des couches de la terre. In his preface to the third volume Holbach has some interesting remarks about the deluge, the irony of which seems to have escaped the royal censor, Millet, Docteur en Thologie.
"La description si prcise et si dtaille que Mose fait du Deluge dans la Gense, ayant une autorit infaillible, puis qu'elle n'est autre que celle de Dieu mme, nous rend certains de la ralit et de l'universalit de ce chtiment terrible. Il s'agit simplement d'examiner si les naturalistes, tels que Woodward, Schenchzer, Buttner et M. Lehmann lui-mme ne se sont points tromps, lorsqu'ils ont attribu cet vnement seul la formation des couches de la terre et lorsqu'ils s'en sont servis pour expliquer l'tat actuel de notre globe. Il semble que rien ne doit nous empcher d'agiter cette question; l'Ecriture sainte se contente de nous apprendre la voie miraculeuse dont Dieu s'est servi pour punir les crimes du genre humain; elle ne dit rien qui puisse limiter les sentiments des naturalistes sur les autres effets physiques que le dluge a pu produire. C'est une matire qu'elle parot avoir abandonne aux disputes des hommes." He then proceeds to question whether the deluge could have produced the results attributed to it and argues against catastrophism which, it must be remembered, was the received geological doctrine down to the days of Lyell. "Les causes les plus simples sont capables de produire au bout des sicles les effets les plus grands, surtout lorsqu'elles agissent incessament; et nous voyons toutes ces causes runies agir perptuellement sous nos yeux. Concluons, donc, de tout ce qui prcde, que le dluge, seul et les feux souterrains seuls ne suffisent point pour expliquer la formation des couches de la terre. On risquera toujours de se tromper, lorsque par l'envie de simplifier on voudra driver tous les phnomnes de la nature d'une seule et unique cause."
6. Pyritologie by J. F. Henkel, Paris, Herrissant, 1760, a large volume in quarto, translated by Holbach. It contains Flora Saturnisans (translated by M. Charas and reviewed by M. Roux), Henkel's Opuscules Minralogiques and other treatises. Original editions: Pyritologia, Leipzig, 1725, 1754; Flora Saturnisans, Leipzig, 1721; De Appropriatione Chymica, Dresden, 1727, and De Lapidum origine, Dresden, 1734, translated into German, with excellent notes, Dresden, 1744, by M. C. F. Zimmermann, a pupil of M. Henkel. Holbach's translations seem to have been well received because he writes in this preface: "Je m'estimerai heureux si mon travail peut contribuer entretenir et augmenter le got universel qu'on a conu pour le saine physique."
7. Oeuvres mtallurgiques de M. J. C. Orschall, Paris, Hardy, 1760. Orschall still accepted the old alchemist tradition but was sound in practice and was the best authority on copper. Holbach does not attempt to justify his physics which was that of the preceding century. Orschall was held in high esteem by Henckel and Stahl.
8. Recueil des mmoires des Acadmies d'Upsal et de Stockholm, Paris, Didot, 1764. These records of experiments made in the Royal Laboratories of Sweden, founded in 1683 by Charles XI, had already been translated into German and English. Holbach's translation was made from the German and Latin. He promises further treatises on Agriculture, Natural History and Medicine.
9. Trait du Soufre by G. E. Stahl, Paris, Didot, 1766. In speaking of Stahl's theories Holbach says: "Il ne faut pas croire que ces connaissances soient des vrits striles propres seulement satisfaire une vaine curiosit, elles ont leur application aux travaux de la mtallurgie qui leur doivent la perfection o on les a ports depuis quelques temps." Holbach understood very clearly the utility of science in his scheme of increasing the store of human well-being, and would doubtless have translated other useful works had not other interests prevented. There is a MSS. note of his in the Bibliothque Nationale to M. Malesherbes, then Administrateur de la Librairie Royale; suggesting other German treatises that might well be translated. (MSS. 22194).
HOLBACH TO MALESHERBES
J'ai l'honneur de vous envoyer ci-joint la liste des ouvrages dont M. Lige fils pourrait entreprendre la traduction. Je n'en connais actuellement point d'autres qui mritent l'attention du public. M. Macquer m'a crit une lettre qui a pour objet les mmes choses dont vous m'avez fait l'honneur de me parler, et je lui fais la mme rponse.
J'ai l'honneur d'tre avec respect, Monsieur,
Votre trs obissant serviteur D'HOLBACH Paris ce 6 d'avril 1761
The list of books was as follows:
1. Johann Kunckel's Laboratorium Chymicum, 8vo.
2. Georg Ernest Stahl's Commentary on Becher's Metallurgy, 8vo.
3. Concordantia Chymica Becheri, 40, published by Stahl.
4. Cadmologia, or the Natural History of Cobalt, by J. G. Lehmann, Berlin, 1760, 4.
After 1760 Holbach became interested in another line of intellectual activity, namely the writing and translation of anti-religious literature. His first book of this sort really appeared in 1761 although no copies bear this date. From 1767 on however he published a great many works of this character. It is convenient to deal first with his translations of English deistical writers. They are in chronological order.
1. Esprit du clerg, ou le Christianisme primitif veng des entreprises et des excs de nos Prtres modernes. Londres (Amsterdam), 1767. This book appeared in England in 1720 under the title of The Independent Whig; its author was Thomas Gordon (known through his Commentaries on Sallust and Tacitus) who wrote in collaboration with John Trenchard. The book was partially rewritten by Holbach and then touched up by Naigeon, who, according to a manuscript note by his brother, "atheised it as much as possible." It was sold with great secrecy and at a high price—a reward which the colporters demanded for the risk they ran in peddling seditious literature. The book was a violent attack on the spirit of domination which characterized the Christian priesthood at that time.
2. De L'imposture sacerdotale, ou Recueil de Pices sur le clerg, Londres (Amsterdam), 1767. Another edition 1772 under title De la Monstruosit pontificale etc.
Contains translations of various pamphlets including Davisson, A true picture of Popery; Brown, Popery a Craft, London 1735; Gordon, Apology for the danger of the church, 1719; Gordon, The Creed of an Independent Whig, 1720.
3. Examen des Prophties qui servent de fondement la religion Chrtienne, Londres (Amsterdam), 1768. Translation of Anthony Collins, A Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion, London, 1724. Contains also The Scheme of literal Prophecy considered, 1727, also by Collins in answer to the works of Clarke, Sherlock, Chandler, Sykes, and especially to Whiston's Essay towards restoring the text of the Old Testament, one of the thirty-five works directed against Collins' original "Discourse". Copies of this work have become very rare.
4. David, ou l'histoire de l'homme selon le coeur de Dieu. Londres (Amsterdam), 1768. This work appeared in England in 1761 and is attributed to Peter Annet, also to John Noorthook. Some English eulogists of George II, Messrs. Chandler, Palmer and others, had likened their late King to David, "the man after God's own heart." The deists, struck by the absurdity of the comparison, proceeded to relate all the scandalous facts they could find recorded of David, and by clever distortions painted him as the most execrable of Kings, in a work entitled David or the Man after God's Own Heart, which formed the basis of Holbach's translation.
5. Les prtres dmasqus ou des iniquits du clerg chrtien. Londres, 1768. Translation of four discourses published under the title The Ax laid to the root of Christian Priestcraft by a layman, London, T. Cooper, 1742. A rare volume.
6. Lettres philosophiques... Londres (Amsterdam, 1768). Translation of J. Toland's Letters to Serena, London, 1704. The book, which had become very rare in Holbach's time, had caused a great scandal at the time of its publication and was much sought after by collectors. It contains five letters, the first three of which are by Toland, the other two and the preface by Holbach and Naigeon. The matters treated are, the origin of prejudices, the dogma of the immortality of the soul, idolatry, superstition, the system of Spinoza and the origin of movement in matter.
Diderot said of these works, in writing to Mlle. Volland Nov. 22, 1768 (Oeuvres, Vol. XVIII, p. 308): "Il pleut des bombes dans la maison du Seigneur. Je tremble toujours que quelqu'un de ces tmraires artilleurs-l ne s'en trouve mal. Ce sont les Lettres philosophiques traduites, ou supposes traduites, de l'anglais de Toland; c'est l'Examen des prophties; c'est la Vie de David ou de l'homme selon l coeur de Dieu, ce sont mlle diables dchains.—Ah! Madame de Blacy, je crains bien que le Fils de l'Homme ne soit la porte; que la venue d'Elie ne soit proche, et que nous ne touchions au rgne de l'Anti-christ. Tous les jours, quand je me lve, je regarde par ma fentre, si la grande prostitue de Babylone ne se promne point dj dans les rues avec sa grande coupe la main et s'il ne se fait aucun des signes prdits dans le firmament."
7. De la Cruaut religieuse, Londres (Amsterdam). Considerations upon war, upon cruelty in general and religious cruelty in particular, London, printed for Thomas Hope, 1761.
8. Dissertation critique sur les tourmens de l'enfer printed in an original work, L'Enfer dtruit, Londres (Amsterdam), 1769. A translation of Whitefoot's The Torments of Hell, the foundation and pillars thereof discover'd, search'd, shaken and remov'd. London, 1658.
9. In the Recueil philosophique edited by Naigeon, Londres (Amsterdam), 1770. I. Dissertation sur l'immortalit de l'me. Translated from Hume. II. Dissertation sur le suicide (Hume). III. Extrait d'un livre Anglais qui a pour titre le Christianisme aussi ancien que le monde. (Tindal, Christianity as old as Creation.)
10. Esprit de Judasme, ou Examen raisonn de la Loi de Moyse. Londres (Amsterdam), 1770 (1769), translated from Anthony Collins. With the exception of some of Holbach's own works this is one of the fiercest denunciations of Judaism and Christianity to be found in print. In fact, it is very much in the style of Holbach's anti-religious works and shows beyond a doubt that Holbach derived his inspiration from Collins and the more radical of the English school. The volume has become exceedingly rare.
After outlining the history of Judaism the book ends thus:
Ose, donc enfin, Europe! secouer le joug insupportable des prjugs qui t'affligent. Laisse des Hbreux stupides, des frntiques imbciles, des Asiatiques lches et dgrads, ces superstitions aussi avilissantes qu'insenses: elles ne sont point faites pour les habitans de ton climat. Occupe-toi du soin de perfectionner tes gouvernemens, de corriger tes lois, de rformer tes abus, de rgler tes moeurs, et ferme pour toujours les yeux ces vraies chimres, qui depuis tant de sicles n'ont servi qu' retarder tes progrs vers la science vritable et t'carter de la route du bonheur.
11. Examen critique de la vie et des ouvrages de Saint Paul, Londres (Amsterdam), 1770. A free translation of Peter Annet's History and character of St. Paul examined, written in answer to Lyttelton. New edition 1790 and translated back into English "from the French of Boulanger," London, R. Carlile, 1823. A rather unsympathetic account, but with flashes of real insight into "le systme religieux des Chrtiens dont S. Paul fut videmment le vritable architecte." (Eptre ddicatoire.)
Annet said of Paul's type of man "l'enthousiaste s'enivre, pour l'ainsi dire, de son propre vin, il se persuade que la cause de ses passions est la cause de Dieu (p. 72), mais quelque violent qu'ait pu tre l'enthousiasme de S. Paul, il sentait trs bien que la doctrine qu'il prchait devait paratre bizarre et insense des tres raisonnables" (p. 141).
12. De la nature humaine, ou Exposition des facults, des actions et des passions de l'me, Londres (Amsterdam), 1772. (Thomas Hobbes.) Reprinted in a French Edition of Hobbes' works by Holbach and Sorbire, 1787. Appeared first in English in 1640, omitted in a Latin Edition of Hobbes printed in Amsterdam. In spite of its brevity, Holbach considered this one of Hobbes' most important and luminous works.
13. Discours sur les Miracles de Jesus Christ (Amsterdam, 1780?). Translated from Woolston, whom Holbach admired very much for his uncompromising attitude toward truth. He suffered fines and imprisonments, but would not give up the privilege of writing as he pleased. The present discourse was the cause of a quarrel with his friend Whiston. He died Jan. 27, 1733, "avec beaucoup de fermet... il se ferma les yeux et la bouche de ses propres mains, et rendit l'esprit." This work exists in a manuscript book of 187 pages, written very fine, in the Bibliothque Nationale (Mss. franais 15224) and was current in France long before 1780. In fact it is mentioned by Grimm before 1770, but the dictionaries (Barber, Qurard) generally date it from 1780.
Before turning to Holbach's original works mention should be made of a very interesting and extraordinary book that he brought to light, retouched, and later used as a kind of shield against the attacks of the parliaments upon his own works.
In 1766 he published a work entitled L'Antiquit dvoile par ses usages, ou Examen critique des principales Opinions, Crmonies et Institutions religieuses et politiques des diffrens Peuples de la Terre. Par feu M. Boulanger, Amsterdam, 1766. This is a work based on an original manuscript by Boulanger, who died in 1759, preceded by an excellent letter on him by Diderot, published also in the Gazette Littraire.
The use made by Holbach of Boulanger's name makes it necessary to consider for a moment this almost forgotten writer. Nicholas Antoine Boulanger was born in 1722. As a child he showed so little aptitude for study that later his teachers could scarcely believe that he had turned out to be a really learned man. As Diderot observes, "ces exemples d'enfans, rendus ineptes entre les mains des Pdans qui les abrutissent en dpit de la nature la plus heureuse, ne sont pas rares, cependant ils surprennent toujours" (p. 1). Boulanger studied mathematics and architecture, became an engineer and was employed by the government as inspector of bridges and highways. He passed a busy life in exacting outdoor work but at the same time his active intellect played over a large range of human interests. He became especially concerned with historical origins and set himself to learn Latin and Greek that he might get at the sources. Not satisfied that he had come to the root of the matter he learned Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew and Chaldean. Diderot says "Il lisait et tudiait partout, je l'ai moi-mme rencontr sur les grandes routes avec un auteur rabinnique la main." He made a mappemonde in which the globe is divided in two hemispheres, one occupied by the continents, the other by the oceans, and by a singular coincidence he found that the meridian of the continental hemisphere passed through Paris. Some such rearrangement of hemispheres is one of the commonplaces of modern geography. He furnished such articles as, Deluge, Corve, Socit for the Encyclopedia and wrote several large and extremely learned books, among them Recherches sur l'origine du Despotisme oriental and Antiquit dvoile. He died from overwork at the age of thirty-seven.
Boulanger's ideas on philosophy, mythology, anthropology and history are of extraordinary interest today. Diderot relates his saying—"Que si la philosophie avait trouv tant d'obstacles parmi nous c'tait qu'on avait commenc par o il aurait fallu finir, par des maximes abstraites, des raisonnemens gnraux, des rflexions subtiles qui ont rvolt par leur tranget et leur hardiesse et qu'on aurait admises sans peine si elles avaient t prcdes de l'histoire des faits." He carried over this inductive method into realm of history, which he thought had been approached from the wrong side, i.e., the metaphysical, "par consulter les lumires de la raison" (p. 8). He continues, "j'ai pens qu'il devait y avoir quelques circonstances particulires. Un fait et non une spculation mtaphysique m'a toujours sembl devoir tre et tribut naturel et ncessaire de l'histoire." Curiously enough the central fact in history appeared to Boulanger to be the deluge, and on the basis of it he attempted to interpret the Kulturgeschichte of humanity. It is a bit unfortunate that he took the deluge quite as literally as he did; his idea, however, is obviously the influence of environmental pressure on the changing beliefs and practices of mankind. Under the spell of this new point of view, he writes, "Ce qu'on appelle l'histoire n'en est que la partie la plus ingrate, la plus uniforme, la plus inutile, quoi qu'elle soit la plus connue. La vritable histoire est couverte par le voile des temps" (p. 7). Boulanger however was not to be daunted and on the firm foundation of the fact of some ancient and universal catastrophe, as recorded on the surface of the earth and in human mythology, he proceeds to inquire into the moral effects of the changes in the physical environment back to which if possible the history of antiquity must be traced. Man's defeat in his struggle with the elements made him religious, hinc prima mali labes. "Son premier pas fut un faux pas, sa premire maxime fut une erreur" (p. 4 sq). But it was not his fault nor has time repaired the evil moral effects of that early catastrophe. "Les grandes rvolutions physiques de notre globe sont les vritables poques de l'histoire des nations" (p. 9). Hence have arisen the various psychological states through which mankind has passed. Contemporary savages are still in the primitive state—Boulanger properly emphasizes the relation of anthropology to history—"On aperoit qu'il y a une nouvelle manire de voir et d'crire l'histoire des hommes" (p. 12) and with a vast store of anthropological and folklorist learning he writes it so that his assailant, Fabry d'Autrey, in his Antiquit justifie (Paris, 1766) is obliged to say with truth, "Ce n'est point ici un tissus de mensonges grossiers, de sophismes rebattus et bouffons, appliqus d'un air mprisant aux objets les plus intressants pour l'humanit. C'est une enterprise srieuse et rflchie" (p. 11).
In 1767 Holbach published his first original work, a few copies of which had been printed in Nancy in 1761. This work was Le Christianisme dvoil ou Examen des principes et des effets de la religion Chrtienne. Par feu M. Boulanger. Londres (Amsterdam), 1767. There were several other editions the same year, one printed at John Wilkes' private press in Westminster. It was reprinted in later collections of Boulanger's works, and went through several English and Spanish editions. The form of the title and the attribution of the work to Boulanger were designed to set persecution on the wrong track. There has been some discussion as to its authorship. Voltaire and Laharpe attributed it to Damilaville, at whose book shop it was said to have been sold, but M. Barbier has published detailed information given him by Naigeon to the effect that Holbach entrusted his manuscript to M. De Saint-Lambert, who had it printed by Leclerc at Nancy in 1761. Most of the copies that got to Paris at that time were bought by several officers of the King's regiment then in garrison at Nancy, among them M. de Villevielle, a friend of Voltaire and of Condorcet. Damilaville did not sell a single copy and even had a great deal of trouble to get one for Holbach who waited for it a long time. This circumstantial evidence is of greater value than the statement of Voltaire who was in the habit of attributing anonymous works to whomever he pleased. [39:2]
The edition of 1767 was printed in Amsterdam as were most of Holbach's works. We have the details of their publication from Naigeon cadet, a copyist, whose brother, J. A. Naigeon, was Holbach's literary factotum. In a manuscript note in his copy of the Systme de la Nature he tells how he copied nearly all Holbach's works, either at Paris or at Sedan, where he was stationed, and where his friend Blon, the postmaster, aided him, passing the manuscripts on to a Madame Loncin in Lige, who in turn was a correspondent of Marc-Michel Rey, the printer in Amsterdam. Sometimes they were sent directly by the diligence or through travellers. This account agrees perfectly with information given M. Barbier orally by Naigeon an. After being printed in Holland the books were smuggled into France sous le manteau, as the expression is, and sold at absurd rates by colporters. [40:3]
Diderot writing to Falconet early in 1768 [40:4] says: "Il pleut des livres incrdules. C'est un feu roulant qui crible le sanctuaire de toutes parts... L'intolrance du gouvernment s'accroit de jour en jour. On dirait que c'est un projet form d'teindre ici les lettres, de ruiner le commerce de librairie et de nous rduire la besace et la stupidit... Le Christianisme dvoil s'est vendu jusqu' quatre louis."
When caught the colporters were severely punished. Diderot gives the following instance in a letter to Mlle. Volland Oct. 8, 1768 (Avzac-Lavigne, Diderot, p. 161): "Un apprenti avait reu, en payment ou autrement, d'un colporteur appel Lcuyer, deux exemplaires du Christianisme dvoil et il avait vendu un de ces exemplaires son patron. Celui-ci le dfre au lieutenant de police. Le colporteur, sa femme et l'apprenti sont arrts tous les trois; ils viennent d'tre piloris, fouetts et marqus, et l'apprenti condamn neuf ans de galres, le colporteur cinq ans, et la femme l'hpital pour toute sa vie."
There are two very interesting pieces of contemporary criticism of Le Christianisme dvoil, one by Voltaire, the other by Grimm. Voltaire writes in a letter to Madame de Saint Julien December 15, 1766 (Oeuvres, XLIV, p. 534, ed. Garnier): "Vous m'apprenez que, dans votre socit, on m'attribue Le Christianisme dvoil par feu M. Boulanger, mais je vous assure que les gens au fait ne m'attribuent point du tout cet ouvrage. J'avoue avec vous qu'il y a de la clart, de la chaleur, et quelque fois de l'loquence; mais il est plein de rptitions, de ngligences, de fautes contre la langue et je serais trs-fch de l'avoir fait, non seulement comme acadmicien, mais comme philosophe, et encore plus comme citoyen.
"Il est entirement oppos mes principes. Ce livre conduit l'athisme que je dteste. J'ai toujours regard l'athisme comme le plus grand garement de la raison, parce qu'il est aussi ridicule de dire que l'arrangement du monde ne prouve pas un artisan suprme qu'il serait impertinent de dire qu'une horloge ne prouve pas un horloger.
"Je ne rprouve pas moins ce livre comme citoyen; l'auteur parat trop ennemi des puissances. Des hommes qui penseraient comme lui ne formeraient qu'une anarchie: et je vois trop, par l'example de Genve, combien l'anarchie est craindre. Ma coutume est d'crire sur la marge de mes livres ce que je pense d'eux, vous verrez, quand vous daignerez venir Ferney, les marges de Christianisme dvoil chargs de remarques qui montrent que l'auteur s'est tromp sur les faits les plus essentiels." These notes may be read in Voltaire's works (Vol. XXXI, p. 129, ed. Garnier) and the original copy of Le Christianisme dvoil in which he wrote them is in the British Museum (c 28, k 3) where it is jealously guarded as one of the most precious autographs of the Patriarch of Ferney.
Grimm's notice is from the Correspondance Littraire of August 15, 1763 (Vol. V, p. 367). "Il existe un livre intitul le Christianisme dvoil ou Examen des principes et des effets de la religion Chrtienne, par feu M. Boulanger, volume in 8. On voit d'abord qu'on lui a donn ce titre pour en faire le pendant de l'Antiquit dvoile; mais il ne faut pas beaucoup se connatre en manire pour sentir que ces deux ouvrages ne sont pas sortis de la mme plume. On peut assurer avec la mme certitude que celui dont nous parlons ne vient point de la fabrique de Ferney, parce que j'aimerais mieux croire que le patriache et pris la lune avec ses dents; cela serait moins impossible que de guetter sa manire et son allure si compltement qu'il n'en restt aucune trace quelconque. Par la mme raison, je ne crois ce livre d'aucun de nos philosophes connus, parce que je n'y trouve la manire d'aucun de ceux qui ont crit. D'u vient-il donc? Ma foi, je serais fch de le savoir, et je crois que l'auteur aura sagement fait de ne mettre personne dans son secret. C'est le livre le plus hardi et le plus terrible qui ait jamais parti dans aucun lieu du monde. La prface consiste dans une lettre o l'auteur examine si la rligion est rellement ncessaire ou seulement utile au maintien ou la police des empires, et s'il convient de la respecter sous ce point de vue. Comme il tablit la ngative, il entreprend en consquence de prouver, par son ouvrage, l'absurdit et l'incohrence du dogme Chrtien et de la mythologie qui en rsulte, et l'influence de cette absurdit sur les ttes et sur les mes. Dans la seconde partie, il examine la morale chrtienne, et il prtend prouver que dans ses principes gnraux elle n'a aucun avantage sur toutes les morales du monde, parce que la justice et la bont sont recommandes dans tous les catchismes de l'univers, et que chez aucun peuple, quelque barbare qu'il fut, on n'a jamais enseign qu'il fallt tre injuste et mchant. Quant ce que la morale chrtienne a de particulier, l'auteur pretend dmontrer qu'elle ne peut convenir qu' des enthousiastes peu propres aux devoirs de la socit, pour lesquels les hommes sont dans ce monde. Il entreprend de prouver, dans la troisime partie, que la religion chrtienne a eu les effets politiques les plus sinistres et les plus funestes, et que le genre humain lui doit tous les malheurs dont il a t accabl depuis quinze dix-huit sicles, sans qu'on en puisse encore prvoir la fin.
Ce livre est crit avec plus de vhmence que de vritable loquence; il entraine. Son style est chti et correct, quoique un peu dur et sec; son ton est grave et soutenu. On n'y apprend rien de nouveau, et cependant il attache et intresse. Malgr son incroyable tmrit, on ne peut refuser l'auteur la qualit d'homme de bien fortement pris du bonheur de sa race et de la prosprit des socits; mais je pense que ses bonnes intentions seraient une sauvegarde bien faible contre les mandements et les rquisitions." This is a clear and fair account of a book that is without doubt the severest criticism of the theory and practice of historical Christianity ever put in print.
The church very naturally did not let such a book pass unanswered. Abb Bergier, a heavy person, triumphantly refuted Holbach in eight hundred pages in his Apologia de la Religion Chrtienne contre l'Auteur du Christianisme dvoil, Paris, 1769, which finishes with the fatal prophecy, "Nous avons de surs garans de nos esprances: tant que le sang auguste de S. Louis sera sur le trne, il n'y a point de rvolutions craindre ni dans la Religion ni dans la politique. La religion Chrtienne fonde sur la parole de Dieu... triomphera des nouveaux Philosophes. Dieu qui veille sur son ouvrage n'a pas besoin de nos faibles mains pour le soutenir" (Psaume 32, vs. 10, 11).
2. There already existed in 1767 another work by Holbach entitled Thologie portative ou Dictionnaire Abrg de la Religion Chrtienne. Par Mr Abb Bernier. Londres (Amsterdam), 1768 (1767). This book went through many editions and was augmented by subsequent authors and editors. Voltaire was already writing to d'Alembert about it August 14, 1767. [44:5]
In a letter to Damilaville, October 16, he writes (Vol. XIV, p. 406):
Depuis trois mois il y a une douzaine d'ouvrages d'une libert extrme, imprims en Hollande. La Thologie portative n'est nullement thologique: ce n'est qu'une plaisanterie continuelle par ordre alphabtique; mais il faut avouer qu'il y a des traits si comiques que plusieurs thologiens mmes ne pourront s'empcher d'en rire. Les jeunes gens et les femmes lisent cette folie avec avidit. Les ditions de tous les livres dans ce got se multiplient.
And on February 8, 1768, he wrote:
On fait tous les jours des livres contre la religion, dont je voudrais bien imiter le style pour la dfendre. Y a-t-il de plus sal, que la plupart des traits qui se trouvent dans la Thologie portative? Y a-t-il rien de plus vigoreux, de plus profondment raisonn, d'crit avec une loquence plus audacieuse et plus terrible, que le Militaire philosophe, ouvrage qui court toute l'Europe? [by Naigeon and Holbach] Lisez la Thologie portative, et vous ne pourrez vous empcher de rire, en condammant la coupable hardiesse de l'auteur. Lisez l'Imposture sacerdotale—vous y verrez le style de Dmosthne. Ces livres malheuresement inondent l'Europe; mais quelle est la cause de cette inondation? Il n'y en a point d'autre que les querelles thologiques qui ont rvolt les laques. Il s'est fait une rvolution dans l'esprit humain que rien ne peut plus arrter: les perscutions ne pourraient qu'irriter le mal. [Footnote: the italics are mine.]
It is to be noted however that Voltaire's sentiments varied according to the point of view of the person to whom he was writing. In a letter to d'Alembert, May 24, 1769 (Vol. LXV, p. 453), he calls the Thologie portative "un ouvrage mon gr, trs plaisant, auquel je n'ai assurment nulle part, ouvrage que je serais trs fch d'avoir fait, et que je voudrais bien avoir t capable de faire." But in a letter to the Bishop of Annecy June, 1769, he writes (Vol. XXVIII, p. 73): "Vous lui [M. de Saint Florentin] imputez, ce que je vois par vos lettres, des livres misrables, et jusqu' la Theologie portative, ouvrage fait apparemment dans quelque cabaret; vous n'tes pas oblig d'avoir du got, mais vous tes oblig d'tre juste" (Vol. XXVIII, p. 73). Diderot even said of the book: "C'est un assez bon nombre de bonnes plaisanteries noyes dans un beaucoup plus grand nombre de mauvaises" and this criticism is just. A few examples of the better jokes will suffice:
Adam: C'est le premier homme, Dieu en fait un grand nigaud, qui pour complaire sa femme eut la btise de mordre dans une pomme que ses descendans n'ont point encore pu digrer.
Ides Innes: Notions inspires des Prtres de si bonne heure, si souvent rptes, que devenu grand l'on crot les avoir eu toujours ou les avoir reus ds le ventre de sa mre.
Jonas: La baleine fut la fin oblige de le vomir tant un Prophte est un morceau difficile digrer.
Magie: Il y en a de deux sortes, la blanche et la noire. La premire est trs sainte et se pratique journellement dans l'glise.
Protestants: Chrtiens amphibies.
Vierge: C'est la mre du fils de Dieu et belle-mre de l'glise.
Visions: Lanternes magiques que de tout temps le Pre Eternel s'est amus montrer aux Saintes et aux Prophtes.
3. Holbach furnished the last chapter of Naigeon's book Le Militaire philosophe, ou Difficulties sur la religion, Londres (Amsterdam), 1768. Voltaire ascribed the work to St. Hyacinthe. Grimm recognized that the last chapter was by another hand and considered it the weakest part of the book. It attempts to demonstrate that all supernatural religions have been harmful to society and that the only useful religion is natural religion or morals. The book was refuted by Guidi, in a "Lettre a M. le Chevalier de... [Barthe] entran dans l'irreligion par un libelle intitul Le Militaire philosophe (1770, 12mo).
4. Holbach's next book was La Contagion sacre ou l'Histoire naturelle de la Superstition, Londres (Amsterdam), 1768. In his preface Holbach attributed the alleged English original of this work to John Trenchard but that was only a ruse to avoid persecution. The book is by Holbach. It has gone through many editions and been translated into English and Spanish. The first edition had an introduction by Naigeon. According to him manuscripts of this book became quite rare at one time and were supposed to have been lost. Later they became more common and this edition was corrected by collation with six others.
[PG transcriber's note: at this point there appears to be a break in the original text. A sentence introducing the fifth book in this list, "Letters to Eugenie", has evidently been lost.]
The letters were written in 1764, according to Lequinio (Feuilles posthumes), who had his information from Naigeon, to Marguerite, Marchioness de Vermandois in answer to a very touching and pitiful letter from that lady who was in great trouble over religion. Her young husband was a great friend of the Holbachs, but having had a strict Catholic bringing up she was shocked at their infidelity and warned by her confessor to keep away from them. "Yet in their home she saw all the domestic virtues exemplified and beheld that sweet and unchangeable affection for which the d'Holbachs were eminently distinguished among their acquaintances and which was remarkable for its striking contrast with the courtly and Christian habits of the day. Her natural good sense and love for her friends struggled with her monastic education and reverence for the priests. The conflict rendered her miserable and she returned to her country seat to brood over it. In this state of mind she at length wrote to the Baron and laid open her situation requesting him to comfort, console, and enlighten her." [47:7] His letters accomplished the desired effect and he later published them in the hope that they would do as much for others. They were carefully revised before they were sent to the press. All the purely personal passages were omitted and others added to hide the identity of the persons concerned. Letters of the sort to religious ladies were common at this time. Frret's were preventive, Holbach's curative, but appear to be rather strong dose for a dvote. Other examples are Voltaire's Eptre Uranie and Diderot's Entretien d'un Philosophe avec la Marchale de....
6. In 1769 Holbach published two short treatises on the doctrine of eternal punishment which claimed to be translations from English, but the originals are not to be found. The titles are De l'intolrance convaincue de crime et de folie as it is sometimes given, and—
7. L'Enfer dtruit ou Examen raisonn du Dogme de l'Eternit des Peines. Londres, Amsterdam, 1769. This letter was translated into English under the title Hell Destroyed! "Now first translated from the French of d'Alembert without any mutilations," London 1823, which led Mr. J. Hibbert to say, "I know not why English publishers attribute this awfully sounding work to the cautious, not to say timid d'Alembert. It was followed by Whitefoot's 'Torments of Hell,' now first translated from the French." [47:8]
Of Holbach's remaining works on religion two, Histoire critique de Jsus Christ and Tableau des Saints, date from 1770 when he began to publish his more philosophical works.
8. The Histoire critique de Jsus Christ ou Analyse raisonne des Evangiles was published without name of place or date. It was preceded by Voltaire's Eptre Uranie. It is an extremely careful but unsympathetic analysis of the Gospel accounts, emphasizing all the inconsistencies and interpreting them with a literalness that they can ill sustain. From this rationalistic view-point Holbach found the Gospels a tissue of absurdities and contradictions. His method, however, would not be followed by the critique of today.
9. The Tableau des Saints is a still more severe criticism of the heroes of Christendom. Holbach's proposition is "La raison ne connat qu'une mesure pour juger et les hommes et les choses, c'est l'utilit relle et permanente, qui en rsulte pour notre espce," (p. 111). Judged by this standard, the saints with their eyes fixed on another world have fallen far short. "Ils se flattrent de mriter le ciel en se rendant parfaitement inutile la terre" (p. xviii). Holbach much prefers the heroes of classical antiquity. The book is violent but learned throughout, and deals not only with the Jewish patriarchs from Moses on but with the church fathers and Christian Princes down to the contemporary defenders of the faith. After a rather one-sided account of the most dreary characters and events in Christian history, Holbach concludes: "Tel fut, tel est, et tel sera toujours l'esprit du Christianisme: il est ais de sentir qu'il est incompatible avec les principes les plus videns de la morale et de la saine politique" (p. 208).