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Notes to Part II

1. That sequence is Memory, Reason, and Imagination. See [Part I].

2. D’Alembert reproduces the famous assertion of Fontenelle concerning the continuity of the forces of nature, upon which he based his arguments in favor of the Moderns in his Digression of the Ancients and the Moderns (1688), in Oeuvres de Fontenelle (Amsterdam, 1764), IV, 114.

3. Gerbert of Aurillac (940?–1003) became Pope Sylvester II. He was a great medieval French scholar whose special competence was in mathematics and the physical sciences. This accounts for d’Alembert’s admiration for him alone among the intellectuals of the Middle Ages, and it is for this reason he is coupled with Archimedes.

4. D’Alembert refers here to the much-hated scholasticism.

5. An historian cannot but raise an objection to d’Alembert’s gross and inaccurate explanation for the origin of the Renaissance, as well as his violent treatment of the Middle Ages. The fall of Constantinople came well after the first masterpieces of the Renaissance had appeared. Voltaire gave precisely the same description of the beginning of the Renaissance in his Siècle de Louis XIV (1751), in Oeuvres, XIV, 155–56, and in his Essai sur les moeurs, in Oeuvres, XI, 162. D’Alembert sensibly qualified the “fall of Constantinople” theory of the Renaissance in his article “Erudition,” Encyclopédie, V, 915.

6. Later editions: “ordinarily.”

7. D’Alembert refers to the Latin and Greek scholarship of the humanists, like Budé of the French Renaissance.

8. The national character of the Discourse is evident in d’Alembert’s treatment of the Renaissance almost exclusively in terms of the history of French literature and art. His prejudice against the poets of the French Renaissance was shared by the majority of his enlightened contemporaries. It had originated in the seventeenth century and was raised to the level of dogma by the famous Art poétique of Boileau-Despréaux (1636–1711), whose work d’Alembert later called “The code of good taste in our language, as that of Horace is in Latin” ( Oeuvres, II, 355, “Éloge de Despréaux” ). Ronsard (1524–1585), the greatest of the French poets of his century, was dismissed as a pedant. Like Boileau, d’Alembert thought that French poetry had to await the coming of Malherbe (1555–1628), the court poet of Henry IV. Prose was not “perfected” until the works of Guez de Balzac (1597–1654). In the first half of the nineteenth century, French critics and poets rehabilitated many of the poets of the sixteenth century, and they have been read and enjoyed ever since, while Malherbe and Balzac are no longer in such high favor.

9. The abbey of Port-Royal served as the center of the Jansenists, a group of French Catholic laymen and clergymen who resembled Calvinists in certain of their theological doctrines and in their austerity, and who were seriously persecuted by Louis XIV and officially condemned by the Pope. The prose of certain Jansenists such as Arnauld and Nicole was highly esteemed, and that of Pascal (1623–1662), the great scientist and lay theologian who was associated with the Jansenist cause for many years, is undoubtedly one of the glories of the French language.

10. See [Part II,] n. 8.

11. Bishop Bossuet (1627–1704), the foremost defender of the Catholic faith in the late seventeenth century, also ranked among the literary masters of the classical age for the magnificent prose of his sermons and his historical writing.

12. Later editions: “finally Quinault, creator of a new kind of work, assured himself immortality by his lyrical poems; and Lully. . . .”

13. Note that nearly all of the artists whom d’Alembert eulogizes here were closely associated with the royal court, center of the finest expression of seventeenth-century French classical forms, similarly admired by Voltaire in his Age of Louis XIV. Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) was famed for his historical scenes and landscapes painted in the classical manner. Pierre Puget (1622–1694) applied the same style to sculpture and architecture. Eustache Le Sueur (1616–1655) painted a celebrated series of scenes from the life of Saint Bruno in the cloister of the Paris Chartreux monastery and other works on religious themes. Louis XIV commissioned Charles Le Brun (1619–1690) to paint a series of scenes from the life of Alexander the Great at the palace of Fontainebleau and also employed him for eighteen years to decorate the palace of Versailles. The poet and playwright Philippe Quinault (1635–1688) wrote a number of librettos for the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully (1633?–1687), court musician of Louis XIV, who was considered the founder of French opera and the finest of all French composers until Rameau.

14. Phidias was the foremost sculptor of Greece in the fifth century B.C., and Praxiteles in the fourth century.

15. That is, while a Renaissance sculptor could, like the ancients, work in marble, the Renaissance writer had to transpose the ancient forms into a new “material”—the modern vernacular.

16. This sentence is left out of the 1764 edition.

17. Later editions add the phrase: “rather, religion reproves it, although this tribunal is occupied by its ministers.”

18. The tribunal to which d’Alembert refers is, of course, the Inquisition; Galileo (1564–1642) was the astronomer condemned by it. The Jesuit Journal de Trévoux (October, 1751), in its critical review of the first volume of the Encyclopedia, took issue with d’Alembert’s reference to Pope Zachary (d. 752), among other things pointing out that it was not a bishop but a priest who was condemned and that he had been accused of asserting that there were races of men who were not descended from Adam. D’Alembert gave over a large section of the article “Antipodes,” Encyclopédie, I, 512–14, to a more sharply anticlerical discussion of this question, in which he acidly assailed an author in the Journal de Trévoux of 1708, who tried to justify this action of the Pope. In the errata of Volume II, page iv, he points out that the man in question may have been only a priest rather than a bishop, and he made a rather contemptuous reference to this criticism and others by the Journal de Trévoux in the preface to the second edition of the Discourse, in Oeuvres, I, 14. Lynn Thorndike discusses this problem in detail in his article “ L’Encyclopédie and the History of Science,” Isis, VI (1924), 369.

19. According to F. M. Grimm, ( Correspondance littéraire, III, 116) Diderot was the first serious student of Bacon among the group of encyclopedists, and Diderot himself claims in the article “Encyclopedia,” V, 647, to have taught his fellow citizens to esteem and read Bacon. It is apparent that Condillac had not read Bacon until he was writing his Essai sur l’origine des connoissances humaines (1746), in Oeuvres philosophiques, I, 115, and d’Alembert gives no indication that he had made a study of Bacon before he wrote the Discourse. D’Alembert’s historical and biographical judgments on Bacon are close to those in Voltaire’s Lettres philosophiques, Letter XII. See Voltaire, Oeuvres, XXII, 116 ff.

20. This is probably a reference to Bacon’s Cogitata et visa (published posthumously). It might, however, refer to Bacon’s Essays, some of which d’Alembert translated into French ( Oeuvres, IV, 227 ff.). The reference from Terence comes from his Heauton Timoroumenos, I. 77: “Homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto.”

21. “Particular physics” is defined in the “Detailed Explanation of the System of Human Knowledge.”

22. D’Alembert takes special pains to point out what the Encyclopedia borrowed from Bacon and what was added, in order to refute the implied charge of plagiarism in the Journal de Trévoux, January, 1751, p. 188. Diderot’s outline of the Baconian systematization of knowledge is included at the end of the Discourse.

23. François Viète (1540–1603) was a pioneer French algebraist and geometer who introduced the use of letters for quantities in algebra.

24. Descartes employed the vortex theory to account for the circular movement of planets, which Newton later explained by gravity. The physics of Descartes postulated that whenever a physical object moves, something must move into its place, since there is no vacuum in the physical world. The entire world of matter is characterized from one end to the other by a circular or vortical motion of bodies, there being innumerable such vortices in the universe, including the great one of the planets around the sun.

25. The prefaces to his earliest scientific works show how carefully d’Alembert had studied the work of Descartes and the great respect he had for him as a physical scientist and mathematician.

26. In the 1764 edition d’Alembert substitutes here: “more essential than all those contributed. . . .”

27. Later editions: “to experiments and geometry.”

28. Joseph Saurin (1659–1737), a French Cartesian mathematician and physicist, asserted in the first decade of the eighteenth century that the universal “attraction” of Newton, which could be only measured and not explained, was nothing more than a new version of the scholastic “occult qualities.” See Fontenelle’s “Éloge de M. de Saurin,” Oeuvres (Amsterdam, 1764), VI, 338; Voltaire’s Lettres philosophiques, in Oeuvres, XXII, 138; and d’Alembert’s article “Attraction,” Encyclopédie, I, 854.

29. Isaac Barrow (1630–1677) was Newton’s professor, who brought mathematics to the verge of the discovery of calculus.

30. Christian Huyghens (1629–1695), a Dutch physicist, mathematician, and astronomer, is remembered for his study of the pendulum. A contemporary of Newton and Leibniz and a “reformed” disciple of Descartes, he was one of the great scientists of his age. For a number of years he lived in Paris.

31. Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), the brilliant French scientist, mathematician, and (later) theologian, is especially noted for his discoveries concerning atmospheric pressure, the equilibrium of fluids, and the mathematics of probability. See [Part II,] n. 9.

32. Malebranche (1638–1715) was a French Roman Catholic cleric who developed a vast metaphysical system derived from the philosophy of Descartes. Perhaps his most famous idea was that we “see all things in God,” who alone makes it possible for a relationship to exist between our ideas and their objects, since mind and matter are completely diverse in nature. The philosophes found him guilty of engaging in the “spirit of systems.”

33. Vesalius (1514–1564) was the most renowned of the early modern anatomists, Sydenham (1624–1689) an English physician and pioneer modern clinician, and Boerhaave (1668–1738), a Dutch physician and professor of Leyden who in his day was almost as celebrated as Newton and Leibniz. He applied the Newtonian experimental method to medicine and chemistry.

34. A most unpleasant dispute broke out between Leibniz and Newton and their respective partisans over which man had a right to claim the glory of inventing calculus. It is almost certain that each made his discovery independently.

35. Any competent history of philosophy will deal with the subjects of sufficient reason, monads, pre-established harmony. The encyclopedists were largely unresponsive to Leibniz because he was author of a philosophical “system” which went contrary to their factual and analytical leanings. He was, nonetheless, much admired for his awesome intellectual stature, and there are many references to him in d’Alembert’s articles.

36. Later editions included the following sentence: “This great man seems to have brought to metaphysics more sagacity than enlightenment, but however one thinks on this point, one cannot refuse him the admiration which he merits by the grandeur of his views of all kinds, the prodigious extent of his knowledge, and above all the philosophical spirit by which he was able to illuminate them.”

37. Here is an illustration of a favorite device of the critics of the Old Régime in France, and especially of the encyclopedists. They employed the example of England’s liberal virtues as a means of setting in relief the abuses in France. So great was the philosophes’ admiration for the life and society of England in the eighteenth century that it came to be called anglomanie.

38. Maupertuis (1698–1759) was the eminent and controversial French mathematician, astronomer, and Newtonian physicist selected by Frederick II of Prussia to be the president of his Royal Academy of Sciences, a choice that was commended by d’Alembert, who was once his protegé, in the article “Royal Academy of Science,” Encyclopédie, I, 55. The Prussian king on a number of occasions offered the succession to this honor to his friend d’Alembert, both before and after the death of Maupertuis. D’Alembert cites the work of Maupertuis throughout the scientific articles of the Encyclopedia.

39. Jacques Rohault (1620–1675) and his disciple, Pierre Sylvain Régis (1632–1707) were the chief French interpreters and militant proponents of the philosophy and scientific theories of Descartes in the late seventeenth century. The conquest of French intellectual circles at the end of the century by the formerly proscribed Cartesianism owed much to these two men. See Aram Vartanian, Diderot and Descartes (Princeton, 1953), pp. 25, 54, 219–20. French philosophy and Cartesianism seemed so thoroughly identical at the beginning of the century that, as d’Alembert points out, resistance to foreign philosophies became, for some, almost a matter of national pride.

40. 1764 edition: “minds.”

41. D’Alembert refers here to the magnificent Fontenelle (1657–1757), one of the creators of the Enlightenment and a favorite model for its writers, whose hundred-year life spanned the age of Louis XIV and a good part of the Enlightenment. He was a master at stating scientific and philosophical ideas in a comprehensible way, from whom the encyclopedists drew heavily for their articles, and, as secretary of the Académie des Sciences, he composed a celebrated collection of eulogies for its distinguished scientists. D’Alembert later performed a similar secretarial function at the Académie Française.

42. Buffon (1707–1788), who wrote in a particularly magnificent style, began publishing l’Histoire naturelle in 1749. It went through a number of editions in rapid succession and was widely heralded as the great work of the century on all phases of natural history. Over a period of years Buffon continued to produce volume after volume of his natural history, and much of it was incorporated into the Encyclopedia. For a comment on the striking parallels between Buffon’s theory of biological continuity and d’Alembert’s application of the notion of continuity to all thought and phenomena, see [Part I,] n. 59.

43. D’Alembert’s note as follows: “M. l’abbé de Condillac, of the Académie Royale des Sciences de Prusse, in his Traité des Systèmes.

44. Later editions: “The spirit of system. . . .”

45. The passage beginning with this sentence and going to the end of the paragraph is taken directly from the “Introduction” to d’Alembert’s scientific treatise Recherches sur la précession des equinoxes, et sur la nutation de l’axe de la terre dans le système Newtonian, published in 1749 ( Oeuvres, I, 437). It closely parallels the arguments in Condillac’s Traité des systèmes, published in the same year.

46. Robert E. Butts, “Rationalism and Modern Science: d’Alembert and the Esprit Simpliste,” Bucknell Review, VIII (1959), 134, makes the following interpretation of this passage:

The suggestion here is that though a sense of simplicity and systematization should govern the scientist’s use of method, simplicity and systematization as methodological postulates should not be generalized into metaphysical propositions regarded as a priori truths.

47. D’Alembert is probably referring to the minute analysis of various forms of love, usually the beginning stages of tender young love, by Marivaux (1688–1763) in his comedies of the 1720’s and 1730’s.

48. D’Alembert and Voltaire alike continually looked back upon the age of Louis XIV as a golden period of literature and the arts, from which there had been a marked decline. At the same time they congratulated their own epoch for the victory of the analytic method of philosophy.

49. Jean Baptiste Rousseau (1671–1741) is the poet in question here. He was banished from France because of some satirical couplets he was alleged to have written. Clément Marot was an early-renaissance French poet (1496–1544). For Malherbe see [Part II], n. 8.

50. Voltaire (1694–1778) and Crébillon (1674–1762). Crébillon was a highly admired tragedian in the classical tradition of the seventeenth century. Of Voltaire’s many tragedies, only one or two are still performed on rare occasions; Crébillon has been completely forgotten. Voltaire’s Henriade (1728), by our standards an excessively long epic poem, helped establish him as the foremost poet of France and was widely hailed as a great work of literature in the eighteenth century.

51. The Essai sur le siècle de Louis XIV, to which d’Alembert refers here, was published at the end of 1739. It should not be confused with the great Siècle de Louis XIV, first published in 1751, of which the Essai of 1739 constituted most of the first two chapters. (See Voltaire, Oeuvres complètes, “Avertissement de Beuchot” to the Siècle de Louis XIV, XIV, ix.) At the end of the first edition of the Siècle de Louis XIV, Voltaire included a passage handsomely eulogizing the Encyclopedia, no doubt in part a response to d’Alembert’s recent praises of him in the Preliminary Discourse. (Quoted by Theodore Besterman, Voltaire’s Correspondence [Geneva, 1957], XXI, 38–39.) The continued wooing of Voltaire, especially by d’Alembert, at last attracted him to direct participation in the Encyclopedia in 1754. This was a major victory for the project. Thereafter the spirited correspondence of Voltaire and d’Alembert gives us valuable knowledge of the day-to-day history of the Encyclopedia.

52. D’Alembert refers to the Esprit des lois (1748) by the great political theorist, Montesquieu (1689–1755). Later d’Alembert claimed that he had dared to render Montesquieu justice in the Preliminary Discourse at a time when no one had yet publicly raised a voice in France to defend him (“Eulogy of Montesquieu,” Encyclopédie, V [1755], xviii). Montesquieu, duly appreciative, asked Madame du Deffand to thank d’Alembert, and supported her vigorous efforts to have d’Alembert accepted into the Académie Française ( Oevres de Montesquieu, ed. A. Masson, III, 1385 and 1475–76). The ideas of Montesquieu are lightly treated in the Preliminary Discourse, but beginning in the second volume of the Encyclopedia d’Alembert undertook to assure that information drawn from Montesquieu was adequately represented by adding to certain articles by other contributors (e.g., “Capitularies” and “Census”). Later he wrote the famous eulogy to Montesquieu at the head of Volume Five of the Encyclopedia. Montesquieu’s application of the analytical method to the study of politics became canon for the Encyclopedia, and eventually most of his work was swallowed up into a multitude of its articles.

53. Later editions include the following passage: “a work that will be an immortal monument to the genius and to the virtue of its author, and to the progress of reason in our century, whose middle part will remain a memorable epoch in the history of philosophy.”

54. Later editions add the words: “ancient and modern.”

55. D’Alembert is probably referring to the comédie larmoyante (tearful comedy), which was becoming popular in the mid-eighteenth century. It was designed to touch the sentiment with its portrayal of virtue and tenderness and was intended to be a partial fusion of comedy and tragedy. La Chaussée (1692–1754) published a number of such plays.

56. Rameau (1683–1764) was the most popular and contentious French composer of the eighteenth century. His musical doctrines produced a bitter factional struggle in which both Rousseau and d’Alembert were his enthusiastic partisans and interpreters. In the Encyclopedia Rousseau wrote the bulk of the articles on music and d’Alembert added to them frequently with further exposition of Rameau’s theories (“Cadence,”  “Fundamental Bass”). In 1752 d’Alembert published an edition of Rameau’s theories called Élémens de musique théorique et pratique suivant les principes de M. Rameau, which was one of the chief means by which Rameau’s musical doctrines were spread throughout Europe. A. Oliver in his The Encyclopedists as Critics of Music (New York, 1947), p. 112, claims that “to this very day music scholars have realized that the clearest approach to Rameau’s theories is to be found in d’Alembert’s Élémens. ” The prickly Rameau was nevertheless highly indignant over certain departures of Rousseau and d’Alembert from adherence to all parts of his dogma, and he bitterly attacked them in print.

57. This is the basse fondamentale of Rameau, which is a fictitious bass line consisting of roots of chords occurring in a succession of harmonies. See W. Apel, Harvard Dictionary of Music (Cambridge, 1947), p. 288, and the article “Basse fondamentale” in the Encyclopedia by Rousseau and d’Alembert.

58. Here d’Alembert refers to the various royal societies of sciences, literature, the arts, and professions that existed in several of the monarchies of western and central Europe. He was a member of several of them himself, and aspired to belong to others, particularly the most coveted of all, the Académie Française, which he entered in 1754. Ultimately he became its perpetual secretary. In the Encyclopedia, appropriately, he wrote the series of articles having to do with the academies of France and all Europe. Intrigue and unfairness did indeed darken the histories of some of these honorary associations, but for the most part they were great instruments of progress in the sciences and the arts.

59. Throughout the Enlightenment progress is considered probable but not necessarily inevitable, and history is commonly viewed as a flux rather than a continuous progress, as we see in this paragraph.

60. D’Alembert’s note as follows: “M. Rousseau of Geneva, author of the part of the Encyclopedia that concerns music, with which we hope that the public will be very well satisfied, has composed a very eloquent discourse to prove that the re-establishment of the sciences and the arts has corrupted human mores. This discourse was awarded a prize in 1750 by the Académie de Dijon, with the highest praises. It was printed in Paris at the beginning of this year [1751] and has done much honor to its author.”

61. In his famous Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, also known as his First Discourse, which launched his reputation in France, Rousseau already signals the beginning of his split with the main body of the philosophes, partly because of his conviction that human sentiment, the source and mainspring of all moral and social progress of mankind, was being slighted in the great preoccupation with the progress of the sciences. D’Alembert himself indicated his concern over the abuse of the analytical method when applied to the expression of sentiments and passions in literature (pp. 96–97), but nonetheless he put his greatest hopes in the progress of analytical empiricism. Rousseau, however, made the human heart and morality his central concern. For him the progress of the mind was only secondary and could even be harmful if not accompanied by moral progress. He moved into an examination of the world of emotional experience and sentiment that laid the foundations of the Romantic movement. His philosophical and personal disagreements with his former encyclopedic colleagues were pathologically intensified by his own mental instability, which led him to imagine a vast conspiracy surrounding him. The open rupture, long in preparation, was brought on by remarks in d’Alembert’s article on Geneva in the Encyclopedia about the policies of that city toward theatrical performances. Rousseau replied in his Lettre à d’Alembert (1758), where he signaled his complete breach with Diderot and made explicit the degree to which he diverged from the encyclopedists in opinions concerning morality and its relationship to religion. See A. M. Wilson, Diderot, p. 291 ff., and R. Naves, Voltaire et l’Encyclopédie (Paris, 1938), pp. 34–50. Rousseau, however, felt honored to be immortalized in the Preliminary Discourse, and he did not argue with him over the objections d’Alembert raises here. See Correspondance générale de Rousseau, ed. Th. Dufour (Paris, 1924), II, 11–12 (letter of 1751 to d’Alembert).

62. Later editions: “to abolish laws. . . .”

63. Later Rousseau specifically refuted this criticism of d’Alembert’s in his Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques (1776):

He has obstinately been accused of wanting to destroy the sciences, arts, theatres, and academies, and to plunge the universe into its original barbarism; and he has insisted, on the contrary, upon conserving existing institutions, maintaining that their destruction could only remove the palliatives while leaving the vices [Cited by Charles Frankel, The Faith of Reason (New York, 1948), p. 119.]

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