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Response to Review of The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe, 1769-1794

On behalf of the FBTEE team, I would like to thank Robert Darnton for his detailed, insightful and glowing – nay scorching – review of our work. Such effusive praise, though far from uncritical, is all the more generous because we are old sparring partners. My past work, whilst admiring of and inspired by Professor Darnton’s scholarship, offers uncompromising challenges to some of his own most cherished and valuable heuristic interpretational contributions to 18th-century history – above all, desacralization theory and the Grub Street explanation of the French revolution’s origins.(1)

Equally, as he rightly identifies, the FBTEE project was based on the premise that a statistical approach to the STN [Société typographique de Neuchâtel] archive based on supply of books would prove more rewarding than his own pioneering demand-based approach. This premise is something he questions in his review and invites me to discuss, but before I do so, we ought to recognise two things. First, that our complex digitally-based approach has only become technologically feasible in the last few years. Any implied shortcomings emerging from a comparison of his methods and those of the FBTEE project are thus inherently unfair. His monumental scholarly project, moreover, was more path-breaking in the print era than the FBTEE project is today. Second, that ideally studies of the book trade should consider both supply and demand side evidence. That users of the FBTEE database can actually do this for one small sector of the trade – sales of (highly) illegal literature to France – is down to Professor Darnton himself. With characteristic enthusiasm he granted us permission to include statistics from his Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (1996) and Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769–1789 (1995) on an open source basis. The FBTEE project shares and salutes his commitment to open source access and sees it as essential to the future of academic research in our area.

To appreciate the nature of the FBTEE project and why it adopted its chosen approach, a little history might be useful. I first realised the possibilities and advantages of databasing the STN’s account books in 2004, when working on my book Blackmail, Scandal and Revolution: London’s French Libellistes, 1758–1792 (2006). I had visited Neuchâtel periodically since 1990 to examine the STN’s correspondence files, but on my 2004 trip I adopted a different approach. I had become convinced that the famed pre-revolutionary pornographic pamphlets against Queen Marie-Antoinette probably did not circulate before 1789. Although the police and regime had bought up copies of the first and last of these pamphlets and stored them in their secret dépôt in the Bastille, I had noticed that even book dealers with good contacts in the trade never managed to get to see let alone purchase such pamphlets prior to the revolution.(2) However, this conclusion presented a problem. Since I was intent on proving a negative proposition, I needed to examine every likely source of counter-evidence.

The rolling stock inventories of the STN were one such source, and they particularly interested me because Professor Darnton’s own statistics recorded several orders for anti-Marie-Antoinette libelles. All came to the STN from a single bookseller – Bruzard de Mauvelain.(3) I was therefore delighted to discover that the STN stock inventories contained no mention of the Essais historiques sur la vie de Marie-Antoinette d’Autriche, Reine de France [Historical Essays on the Life of Marie-Antoinette of Austria, Queen of France] and the Passe-tems d’Antoinette [Antoinette’s Amusements], nor indeed the Amours et aventures du Visir Vergennes [Love-Life of the Vizir Vergennes] or Amours de Charlot et Toinette [Love Life of Charlie and Toinette]. Later, I was even able to trace how Mauvelain got to hear rumours of the existence of some of these publications, some of which were probably never printed. So I had clear evidence of works which, despite showing up in a demand side project, had not been available to the public and in some cases probably never existed. And because an extensive literature implicated such pamphlets in the origins of the revolution, this discovery was significant, at least on a historiographical level.(4)

Examining the STN’s rolling stock inventories (rencontres du magasin) led to a second revelation. Whereas Professor Darnton’s survey had concentrated on the demand side only, the rencontres also revealed where the STN’s stock came from. So did some of the STN’s other accounting records. It would therefore be possible to conduct a survey not only of STN sales (or to be more precise their dissemination of books), but also where their stock originated.(5) Might this allow us to find where their ‘floating stock’ came from?

But the biggest attraction was, as Professor Darnton indicates, one of scale. Whereas he and others who had based their work on client correspondence (and sometimes on the STN’s order books) tended to deal with the books ordered from just one country, we would cover the publisher’s entire trade with all of Europe.(6) Using the latest digital technologies my team would finish what Professor Darnton had begun. It was a mouth-watering prospect. So in the spring of 2006 I organised and funded a pilot project, taking my former student Dr Mark Curran with me. The FBTEE project was born.

The FBTEE project’s supply side approach did not necessarily imply any disrespect for demand-side approaches. In fact, Darnton’s approach almost certainly gives a better picture of raw demand – recording any book ordered, not just what the STN could supply. Nevertheless, just what factors shaped the ‘demand’ for the STN’s books is not always clear – why did a particular client choose to order a particular book from them and not François Grasset in nearby Lausanne, for example. Was it down to habit, scale of stock, trust, imprint details, or advertising in newspapers or catalogues, for example? All of these things could distort demand-side statistics. Moreover, as the Marie-Antoinette libelles had shown, supply and demand did not always match up. Indeed, while I would agree with Professor Darnton that there was no formal system of returns, the steady trickle of books returning to the STN silos from other booksellers – equating to about 2.5 per cent of unit sales – appears to involve more than just rejected nouveautés and damaged goods (which in any case were usually sent to the STN’s profit and loss account).(7) Taken in isolation, both supply and demand side approaches to our archive throw up similar sorts of methodological difficulties. Thus beyond their respective ancillary advantages, the question really at issue between them is a philosophic one. What is more important in cultural history: supply or demand? What people desire to read or what they actually get to read?

The issue is significant, because although the STN claimed in its sales patter that it could supply almost any book from anywhere, this was untrue. The reality was that they traded primarily in a limited stock of (mostly) Swiss editions. They appear to have only dealt in about 7 per cent of titles published in Europe during the 1770s and 1780s. So what did book-dealers do faced with this reality? Many prudently limited themselves to ordering what was in the STN’s catalogues, and perhaps asking them also to send any ‘nouveautés’ they may have published too. Others added speculative orders for works that they had been unable to find in their usual suppliers’ catalogues, probably more in hope than expectation. But given the costs and time-lags involved in postal communication; the organisational effort required; and the risks of overstocking, it seems likely that they neither ordered the same work from multiple suppliers simultaneously nor wrote to a succession of dealers until they found what they were after. If the STN could not supply something, that would often be the end of the matter. So what was ordered and what was received often diverged significantly. This is evident to the naked eye in the STN’s order books, which show both what was ordered and what was supplied. Indeed, if we look at orders alone, we might still convince ourselves that pre-revolutionary France was awash with scandalous anti-Marie-Antoinette literature.

There is thus a strong case for approaching the book trade from the supply side. But, as Professor Darnton’s review highlights the FBTEE project has faced a number of methodological and intellectual challenges in presenting and interpreting our data. Much of this review is concerned with discussing how we have dealt with these challenges. The most significant is the issue of how far the insights drawn from just one Swiss archive can be said to be representative.(8)

One analogy I have drawn to help users envisage the trade of the STN is to suggest that it was an of its day. Darnton is not the first to criticise this throw-away line, which comes from in an introductory video explaining the project.(9) His objection is certainly valid if we conceptualise Amazon in terms of market share, omnipresence and product range. But the image was intended for a less specialised audience, and my intention was to indicate that the STN was a mail-order book dealer, selling its wares via the post internationally across a whole continent. On this level, I think the analogy is still helpful, even if it is not perfect. As the database hopes to reach a wider audience (it has had over 2,400 unique visitors to date), I hope I will be pardoned by my most expert critics. However, if the STN was a smaller operation than, it was not insignificant in scale. In its heyday the STN traded in perhaps 1–1.5 per cent of all the copies of French works printed in Europe: this volume alone suggests a certain representativeness. Equally, my survey by subject of the types of work it sold, suggests that it sourced most types of work in broadly similar proportions from its Swiss, French and other European suppliers. Again this hints at a fundamental representativeness.(10)

Further work on other bookseller’s accounts may clarify this point. This is possible despite Professor Darnton’s assertion that there is no way of determining the extent of the representativeness of the STN archive ‘because no comparable archives exist’. For while the STN archives may be uniquely rich in terms of the variety of documentation available, and particularly the extent of the correspondence they contain, they are not the only archive to contain booksellers’ accounts similar to those we have used. Among other archives that have been brought to my attention, we might consider the Luchtmann’s archive in Leyden, which is available in microform; the Veuve Desaint’s archive in Paris; and a number of others in Belgium. Others probably exist forgotten and gathering dust in attics or archives. Exploiting these other archives may prove more challenging than using the STN archive, because it may be more difficult to cross reference data on clients, places or book titles. But it should not prove impossible.

This brings us to the wider question that Darnton raises – the need for cross-referencing to other types of source if we wish to build up a fuller, more representative picture of the dissemination and reception of books in the 18th century. There can be no arguing with this statement, and once again Darnton has blazed part of the trail himself. In The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769–1789 (1995), he listed how many times each title appeared in records of police and customs seizures, and in the handful of surviving manuscript catalogues of livres philosophiques [philosophic – i.e. highly illegal – books]. This work served as a kind of ‘scientific control’ and validation for his STN based figures of demand.

From its inception, the FBTEE project has recognised the importance of trying to include similar ‘control’ data. I always envisaged as only a first stage in this work. The task now is to extend the work in a coherent manner, and one that maintains some semblance of data integrity. FBTEE has already used data from the STN’s own catalogues, but what if we could add to our booksellers’ data, statistics on how many times works appeared in booksellers’ catalogues, private and circulating library catalogues? These are bulky and problematic sources, but if the technical challenges can be overcome, such a study could uncover a mass of data on pan-European circulation patterns. We could also supplement our data with more easily obtainable information on the publication of book reviews; newspaper advertisements; mentions of books in private correspondence; or publishing permissions granted in various jurisdictions? We can catalogue a title’s appearances in various indices of banned books including the Papal Index (some of this index-based work is already done in the FBTEE database) or incorporate police and customs data, drawing on the bibliographic work of Professor Darnton and Robert Dawson.(11) By expanding the range of ‘events’ listed in the database, we can include all these types of data and more. It is a huge collaborative project, but the prize seems enormous – a unique and uniquely comprehensive window on late Enlightenment culture, its reception and dissemination. We might also hope to inspire similar work on other times, other places.(12)

Such projects obviously require painstaking detective work. This brings me to the most curious statement in the whole review, and it concerns one of our greatest triumphs. Professor Darnton states with evident disappointment that we only managed to identify 40 per cent of the works sold by the STN’s agent Durand on his tour. But Durand recorded his orders in a numerical code, corresponding to numbered titles on a list. Only by finding and recognising that list would it be possible to crack the code. My former research assistant, Dr Mark Curran, indeed found what one previous researcher had dubbed the ‘Rosetta stone’. But like the real Rosetta stone, it was incomplete. It was split into three parts, and we only have parts one and two. I leave it to Dr Curran to explain his discovery and how he positively identified it in his forthcoming book.(13) Suffice it here to say that the evidence is not drawn from the STN archives, and was not obviously connected to the STN. This too is important. Mark’s discovery may help us to explain why the STN documentation, particularly correspondence, dries up from 1787.

Thus, if I agree with Darnton that it is disappointing that we have so little data from 1789 onwards – and this was indeed the great disappointment of the project – at least we may be able to explain why. Moreover, contrary to the established view that after 1785 the STN were just running down their stock, significant numbers of new titles appear in their accounts. These include Charles Théveneau de Morande’s notorious 1771 libelle, the Gazetier cuirassé [Armour-plated Gazetteer], which the company refused to sell throughout the ancien régime period.(14) They also included, for the first time, anti-Marie-Antoinette libelles such as Madame de La Motte’s Mémoires or the Essai historique sur la vie de Marie-Antoinette.

There are also problems with interpreting the data concerning individual cities. Much depended upon the nature of the clients that the STN attracted in each place. Professor Darnton rightly singles out Paris as an anomalous market. The dominance of the Parisian booksellers, who held monopoly publishing privilèges for many of the works that the STN pirated, naturally limited and shaped the STN’s trade there. Significant publishing houses there were reluctant to become involved with foreign interlopers. As a result the STN’s Parisian trade was concentrated in commissioned editions, most notably those printed for the budding philosophe and future revolutionary Jacques-Pierre Brissot; editions for their own agents to distribute; and trade with minor local players.(15) The STN also seldom took many copies of books from Paris, as legal monopolies inflated costs, and they could usually source cheaper Swiss pirated editions of nouveautés. However, the STN’s agents in Paris did source single copies of hard to obtain books for favoured local customers, including doctors searching specialised medical texts. They also acquired newly printed works for the STN to consider pirating. It should also be noted that the STN had a bit more success at nearby Versailles, where the bookseller Poinçot became an important client, placing orders for over 18,000 books in 43 orders.

Paris was not the only market the STN failed to crack. In 1770 their agent Samuel Roulet identified the largest London booksellers and tried to persuade them to place orders. None of them ever did so, though a couple corresponded with the STN. Instead the STN traded with a number of small-time London-based retailers and hawkers – fly-by-nights and marginal operators who frequently defaulted or disappeared. However, some of its books probably wound up in the hands of the Genevan exile bookseller David Boissière, who began trading shortly after Roulet’s visit. He was soon recognised as the leading foreign bookseller in London, with a catalogue of around 3,500 titles. Boissière worked in partnership with Pierre Gosse fils in the Netherlands, who supplied him with works published on the continent, some of which can be traced through Boissière’s undated (c.1775) catalogue.(16) In Dublin, by way of contrast to London, the STN managed to acquire only a single customer, but he was Luke White, a bookseller and property speculator so successful that he was elevated to the peerage. Between 1779 and 1785 the STN despatched over 1,000 books to White in ten orders, including 13 copies of the third (quarto) edition of the Encyclopédie, which the STN produced in partnership with other publishers. Among the works White requested most were other major multi-volume works, notably Mercier’s Tableau de Paris [Portrait of Paris], Rousseau’s Oeuvres. He was clearly catering for a different segment of the market to the STN’s London clients, and this appears to explain Professor Darnton’s oft quoted discovery that the [third edition of the] Encyclopédie sold almost as many copies in Dublin as London.(17)   

The example of London and the Boissière-Gosse nexus reinforces Professor Darnton’s point that it is hard to reach the level of end-users of the books sold by the STN. Most of its stock went to other booksellers and wholesalers, so we cannot be sure where a given copy ended up. Thus, as he points out ‘Despite their look of pointilliste precision’ our maps ‘provide only a very approximate picture of the dissemination of literature.’ This objection is not unique to our work on the STN, of course: indeed, Professor Darnton faced a similar problem mapping the sales of the Encyclopédie.(18) The life history and movements of a single book between printers and publishers, wholesalers and retailers, and then successive owners, can seldom be reconstructed in their totality with any degree of confidence. But what we can do is try to filter out books that went to wholesalers, who likely sold them beyond their immediate region, from those sold to smaller retailers, hawkers and private customers, who either kept the books they bought or sold them locally. Whilst Darnton attempted something similar by selecting only retail dealers for his study of Forbidden Bestsellers, the FBTEE database is able to harness the potential of a digital humanities approach. Through its ‘Client type’ option menu, it gives users the power to isolate or exclude ‘Swiss wholesale clients’, ‘Foreign wholesale clients’ or indeed other ‘Swiss book trade clients’ and ‘Foreign book trade clients’. This is only one of eight option menus that allow users to filter our data to minimise some of the biases Professor Darnton has identified. They can for example exclude STN vanity editions by excluding ‘Commissioning clients’ in the ‘Client type’ menu or ‘Commissioned STN editions’ in the ‘Edition type’ menu. They can limit their searches by ‘Client gender’, ‘Original languages’ of publication, or various ‘Markers of illegality’. Such restrictions can also be used cumulatively to create highly specialised data sets in response to sophisticated questions.

The option menus also allow us to get closer to some interesting niche markets and, occasionally, the end consumers of books. It is possible, for example, to isolate unit sales for 4, 267 books sold across the counter at the STN’s Neuchâtel printing house by selecting ‘Counter / cash sales’ from the ‘Client type’ option menu. Although a few of these sales involved bulk purchases, the majority did not, and they therefore allow us to assess something of the literary tastes in the STN’s home town. The impression given by these figures is that in general the reading tastes of the townsfolk were conservative, parochial and pious. For example, the between October 1773 and May 1782 the STN sold 163 copies of a Recueil des passages du Nouveau Testament qui servent à établir les vérités et les devoirs de la religion chrétienne [Collection of Passages from the New Testament which Reveal the Truths and Duties of the Christian Religion] over the counter. Some of these sales were job lots probably destined for local schools, Bible classes or Pastors – 36 copies on 16 November 1776; 28 sales on 4 January 1779; 24 on 1 May 1782; and a handful of other sales of 12 or 13 copies each. But on 24 instances the STN sold a single copy of the work, and on four more it traded just two copies. This suggests that as well as being considered useful by the clergy, it enjoyed a genuine popularity among their flocks. Many similar examples could be cited. Historians seldom get such a detailed and precise view of the reading habits of a single community. Although we must remember that travellers occasionally bought at the counter, too, most purchasers were probably local. The works they bought were read predominantly in the Neuchâtel region.

Equally, it seems likely that works destined for far flung and remote parts of Europe were usually intended for local consumption. Books sent to the formidable-sounding Elsa Fougt, bookseller to the Swedish court, are likely to have remained in the hands of the Swedish nobility. Her seasonal pattern of ordering a handful of copies of 100s of titles reinforces this conclusion. Likewise, books going to Lisbon, Moscow, St Petersbourg or Pest likely stayed in the region. In fact, beyond Switzerland, few clients ordered in sufficient numbers and according to patterns which suggest they were wholesaling STN products. We have identified just four clients in this category, some of whom, like Pierre Gosse or Virchaux, Professor Darnton has already mentioned. Another, Paul Malherbe of Loudun, supplied a regional but not an international market through a network of ‘colporteurs’. The recipient of a large one off dumping of otherwise unsellable, mostly illegal, works, his trade statistics have the potential to distort considerably our view of the clandestine market. The nature of his trade has also been noted by Professor Darnton.(19) J.-L. Boubers and Plomteux, who Darnton also mentions, certainly traded with the STN, but not in sufficient numbers for us to treat them as ‘foreign wholesalers’. Boubers, however, is treated as a ‘Commissioning client’ on account of his sponsorship of the first edition of the Baron d’Holbach’s Système de la nature [System of Nature], which the STN published on his behalf in 1771.

It is also possible through the database to get to some rudimentary figures of reading by social or professional group. This may not amount to a full-scale contribution to the ‘sociology of reading’, but it is suggestive. Again some caution is necessary with the statistics. Clients’ professions are mostly taken from the BPUN’s card indices and the magnificent typed Répertoire géographique [Geographical Handlist] of the STN’s correspondents, which draws on data in the archive.(20) Thus a merchant who dabbled in the book trade may only be described as a marchand rather than a libraire. Likewise some individuals are listed under multiple professions so double counted. Others, often commissioning clients, ordered multiple copies of a single text, implying not all were for their own use: the Protestant pastor Pomaret, who commissioned the STN to publish several of his own works for use in the small town of Ganges is a good example. Nevertheless, if we look at the acquisitions of Protestant clergymen in general, the impression is that most of their reading is serious, professional, and religious in character. The purchases of Catholic clergymen among the STN’s client base gives a very different impression. Since they included many worldly abbés and literary figures, this is perhaps unsurprising – besides, the STN dealt in few explicitly Catholic religious works. It would be fascinating, nevertheless, to learn what the philosophically-minded abbé Lesenne intended to do with the ten copies of Intolérance ecclésiastique [Ecclesiastical Intolerance] that he purchased from the STN. Was this novel, which attacked the intolerance of the Lutheran clergy, intended for circulation among friends in the Roman Catholic clergy?

The answer can be found in Lesenne’s correspondence with the STN – or in Jeffrey Freedman’s Books without Borders in Enlightenment Europe: French Cosmopolitanism and German Literary Markets (2012). Freedman reveals (p. 214) that Lesenne intended to circulate the book among fellow anti-clerical clergymen. For researchers with similar questions, the STN database provides archival guidance. It offers for the first time a digitised catalogue of both the STN’s in-correspondence (for which researchers were previously reliant on the Répértoire géographique and a supplementary card index), and the out-correspondence, about half of which survives in bound volumes. The STN indexed these volumes for their own use, but this information was only available by consulting the documents themselves. With the advent of the FBTEE database we have, for the very first time, a complete electronic indexing of the correspondence.

Armed with the digital tools I have described, and the data from clients big and small, it seems possible to make some tentative suggestions about the place of Enlightenment in the book trade of the STN. Moreover, while acknowledging that it was a single publishing house, the filtering tools the database offers allow us to look beyond many of its biases; the predilections of its directors and customers; and the shortcomings of the archive. Perhaps Professor Darnton is correct to suggest that this is ‘an Enlightenment Europe without much Enlightenment’. But I beg to differ. Enlightenment is to a large degree in the eye of the beholder, and the database offers multiple paths by which it can be studied.

Professor Darnton’s review takes Voltaire as a proxy for the Enlightenment. However, with the exception of their edition of the Questions sur l’encyclopédie [Questions on the Encyclopédie], the STN published very little of the Voltaire material they sold. It was mostly produced by Gabriel Grasset in Geneva, Voltaire’s preferred publisher, who was well placed to pump his output directly into France.(21) So Voltaire is arguably under-represented in the STN archive. But there are other measures of the penetration of the Enlightenment in the database, particularly through our keyword taxonomic system for categorising books. It offers ‘Philosophie’ as a catch all for works conforming to a Peter Gay style anti-clerical and anti-Christian reformist Enlightenment.(22) 273 works accounting for 12.29 per cent of the STN’s outward trade carried this keyword, which is tightly drawn and closely defined. Many among Voltaire’s works, even, are excluded from the category. But the database also offers the increasingly uncontroversial category ‘Christian Enlightenment text’ for works conforming both to a more moderate Enlightenment perspective, vaunting or celebrating reason while at the same time as offering a Christian worldview.(23) 83 works accounting for 2.3 per cent of the STN trade bear this keyword. The two terms are mutually exclusive and indicative only, but between them they account for almost one-sixth of all works the STN traded. This seems significant, particularly as the criteria for associating such works with the Enlightenment are so narrowly drawn. Would we really expect such works to take up a greater proportion of the trade of a general publisher? Probably not, for many of the works that the STN peddled were mundane genres or dealt with mundane topics. The FBTEE database gives us an unparalleled insight to what those works were.

As we might expect, much of the everyday trade of the STN consisted of works far removed from the Enlightenment described above: school text books, religious literature, and literary works, often of an ephemeral nature, destined for a popular market. Certainly the vast bulk of literary works, comprising 24 per cent of the STN’s total unit ‘sales’, have not been categorised as ‘philosophie’. Works we have identified as ‘School Books’ accounted for 7.65 per cent of unit sales; traditional forms of religious works for around 7 per cent more. These include Scripture or digests of scriptures, which accounted for 2.8 per cent of total sales; catechisms (1.9 per cent); sermons (1 per cent); Christian conduct manuals (0.9 per cent); devotional manuals (0.12 per cent). In all, these categories alone account for almost two-fifths of the STN’s sales.

Browsing the keyword combination ‘History’ ‘AND NOT’ ‘Philosophie’ reveals that 46,565 books known to have been distributed by the STN, accounting for 11.26 per cent of sales, fit that category; a further 23,725 works (5.73 per cent of the total) carry the keywords ‘Travel’ ‘AND NOT’ ‘Philosophie’. The overlap between all these categories is small. Taken as a whole, non-philosophic literary works, history, religious works, school books, and travel literature account for over half of all books distributed by the STN. To these we can add many other categories of book offering little scope for the dissemination of Enlightenment ideas as defined in narrow terms above – ephemeral political pamphlets; works on economics, finance and agronomy; instructional manuals and reference works; general scientific and geographical works; conduct manuals and pedagogical treatises, and so on.

And yet, the problem seems here to be with our definition of the Enlightenment. If we try to reduce the Enlightenment to a series of closely defined beliefs or attitudes, it quickly becomes hard to pin down. If we limit ourselves to a select group of writers, we may miss the processes of popularisation by which ideas spread. In fact, we turn back the clock to before Professor Darnton’s own clarion call for a literary history from below.(24)

If instead we envisage the Enlightenment as a process involving particular literary and cultural and intellectual practices, as well as the dissemination of ideas, we can take much broader insights from the FBTEE database. For example, the reference and scientific works described above as part of the Enlightenment project of systematising and disseminating knowledge. The economic texts, geographical surveys and travel literature are part of a process of identifying, evaluating and exploiting resources, both human and physical, on a global scale. Such observations are hardly controversial.

More interesting, perhaps, is the enriching insight we can gain into the forms ‘Enlightenment’ might take. One of Professor Darnton’s most important contributions has been to show how Enlightenment ideas had strange bedfellows – often quite literally. Most memorably, perhaps, he has shown how the pornographic novel Thérèse philosophe [Theresa the Philosophe] used philosophic conversations in the boudoir to promote a materialist view of the universe – and hence the seductive argument that physical pleasure in the here-and-now is the be-all-and-end-all of human existence.(25) But the STN archive also shows that ‘Enlightenment’ ideas and practices thrived alongside more traditional values, often in a single work or the oeuvre of a single author. Alongside the important scientific works, political novels and poetry of Albrecht von Haller, the STN also traded his Lettres sur les vérités les plus importantes de la révélation [Letters on the Most Important Truths of the Divine Revelation] and a few dozen copies of the Lettres de feu Mr. de Haller contre M. de Voltaire [Letters of the late Mr Haller against Monsieur de Voltaire], which offered an enlightened Christian apologetic attack on Voltaire’s La Bible enfin expliquée [The Bible Explained at Last]. Equally, when the conservative religious polemicist abbé Augustin Barruel penned the epistolary novel Les Helviennes [The Helviennes] to defend Christianity from its philosophe critics, he was embracing a literary strategy and form associated with his adversaries to reach an increasingly enlightened public.

We can also find in the archive books – mostly ‘books of secrets’ – treating the medieval pseudo-science of alchemy. The STN distributed some 544 copies of them, together with 1800 copies of works on freemasonry, its rites and mysteries. Over 300 more concern the charlatan, freemason, mystic and alchemist Cagliostro. In terms of total sales, these genres may seem like marginal subjects, but their existence is revealing of the popularity of both pseudo-science and occult knowledge. Yet even these improbable sounding topics can all be linked to Enlightenment. Margaret Jacob long ago argued for the importance of freemasonry as a democratic training ground and Enlightenment sociable forum; while even the (re)publication of books of secrets and alchemical texts, whatever their failings, can be seen as part of the systematisation and propagation of agricultural, medical and scientific knowledge. Finally, in Cagliostro, The Last Alchemist, we have a figure who brings together many of these threads, and whose final discrediting and exposure in print might be seen as a triumph of Enlightenment rationalism.(26)

Thus the STN database can, I think, serve as entry point into the intellectual world of the Enlightenment, in its rich diversity and contradictions. It allows us to follow the networks of print and exchange and assess – according to a range of criteria – which of the works traded by the STN were important and where. By careful application of the database tools – the options menus which restrict searches to types of books or client; the functions allowing us to limit searches by time and place – it is possible to analyse the trade in new ways and create samples which are ‘more representative’ for particular purposes than the totality of the data, thereby compensating for many of the issues Professor Darnton has identified as problematic. We have left it for users to explore the data and options for themselves – while providing them with multiple ways of looking at issues such as geographic space or subject taxonomy. Professor Darnton’s review gives an exciting sense of the rich potential our approach offers, opening up the STN records in ways unimaginable when he first started working the archive.

In rounding off my response, I would like to offer Professor Darnton two final words of thanks. The first is for his forensic efforts in singling out and praising the work of the younger scholars who contributed so much to the FBTEE team. He rightly singles out the impressive work of Dr Vincent Hiribarren in preparing the project maps, work carried out on a minimal budget since at the outset of the project we had been told the work we required was not technically feasible. Initially hired merely to conduct GIS and, later, visualisation work, Vincent was the hour again in late 2011, when my two other staff members moved on. He then took over responsibility for some final editing of content and finishing and upgrading the user interface. Credit for the original interface design belongs to Amyas (‘Henry’) Merivale, whose ‘beautiful network of links’ make it, in Professor Darnton’s words, ‘a joy to use’. Less visible is Sarah Kattau, whose original and painstaking work translated the original design brief into the project’s data structures and data editor. It was her work, rather than the project per se, that our website describes as ‘a wonder to behold’, but if Professor Darnton wishes to extend this praise to the entire database, none of us will quibble. Finally, there is my ‘main collaborator’, Dr Mark Curran, who bore the brunt of the grinding toil of transcribing, interpreting and recording the archival data, much of it drawn from dry and voluminous accounting records. The resulting bibliographic data, as Professor Darnton rightly identifies, is a monumental and important contribution to bibliography. Every scholar who uses our resource owes a great debt to all these individuals.

Finally, I wish to thank Professor Darnton for identifying our enigmatic Mémoire apologétique des genevois as the Pièces importantes à la dernière révolution de Genève [Documents Important to the Recent Genevan Revolution].(27) The database will be upgraded shortly in the light of this data and this will also be an opportunity to insert one or two other corrections. Fortunately we can remedy digital errors more easily and quickly than printed ones. It will be a pleasure to do so.


  1. Professor Darnton’s views on desacralization and Grub Street were most memorably set out in Robert Darnton, ‘The Grub Street style of revolution: J.-P. Brissot, police spy’, Journal of Modern History, 40 (1968), 301–27 and Robert Darnton, ‘The high enlightenment and the low-life of literature in prerevolutionary France’, Past and Present, 51 (1971), 81–115. His most recent exposition can be found in Robert Darnton, The Devil in the Holy Water or the Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon (Philadelphia, PA, 2010). For my critique see Simon Burrows, ‘The innocence of Jacques-Pierre Brissot’, Historical Journal, 46, 4, (2003), 843–71; Simon Burrows, Blackmail, Scandal and Revolution: London’s French Libellistes, 1758–1792 (Manchester, 2006) and my review essay on The Devil in the Holy Water, <> [accessed 21 November 2012]. Darnton’s vigorous riposte, entitled ‘The devil in the details’ is at <> [accessed 21 November 2012].Back to (1)
  2. Burrows, Blackmail, Scandal, and Revolution, esp. ch. 5. My work on the Marie-Antoinette libelles was prefigured by Vivian R. Gruder, ‘The question of Marie-Antoinette: the Queen and public opinion before the Revolution’, French History 16, 3 (2002), 169–98.Back to (2)
  3. For his statistics see Robert Darnton, The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769–1789 (New York, NY, and London, 1795). On Mauvelain see also: Robert Darnton, ‘Trade in the taboo: the life of a clandestine book dealer in prerevolutionary France’ in The Widening Circle: Essays on the Circulation of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Europe, ed. Paul J. Korshin (Philadelphia, PA, 1976), pp.11–83.Back to (3)
  4. The historiography on the Marie-Antoinette pamphlets is discussed at length in the introduction to Blackmail, Scandal and Revolution.Back to (4)
  5. The term ‘Sales’ is used throughout this article to refer to the dissemination of books by the STN. While most sales involved commercial distribution, a proportion of the books traded by the STN were distributed free of charge to censors, friends and political figures as gifts or as a legal requirement; others were technically ‘swapped’ against other merchandise; and yet others were ‘commissioned’ against payment by their authors. The STN archive does not always make clear the underlying nature of any given transaction.Back to (5)
  6. Le Rayonnement d’une maison d’édition dans l’Europe des Lumières: la Société typographique de Neuchâtel 1769–1789, ed. R. Darnton and M. Schlup (Neuchâtel, 2005) and bring together much of the scholarship. See also Jeffrey Freedman, Books Without Borders in Enlightenment Europe: French Cosmopolitanism and German Literary Markets (Philadelphia, PA, 2012).Back to (6)
  7. In total, for the periods covered by our statistics, 10,416 units were returned as against 410,074 units sent out. This represents 2.54 per cent of known sales. Approximately 650 units were returned by Deinet, the bookseller who arranged a large scale ‘return’ to whom Professor Darnton refers in his review.Back to (7)
  8. For reflections on the STN’s representativeness in relation to the FBTEE database, see Simon Burrows and Mark Curran, ‘How Swiss was the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel? A digital case study of French book trade networks’, Journal of Digital Humanities, 1, 3 (2012); Simon Burrows, ‘French banned books in European perspective’ in Experiencing the French Revolution, ed. David Andress (forthcoming, Oxford, 2013).Back to (8)
  9. See also Jeremy D. Popkin’s review of the FBTEE database for the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies <> [accessed 21 November 2012].Back to (9)
  10. See Burrows, ‘French banned books in European perspective’ and Simon Burrows, Enlightenment Bestsellers: The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe, Vol. II  (forthcoming, London, 2013).Back to (10)
  11. See especially Robert Dawson, Confiscations at Custom:Banned Books and the French Book Trade during the Last Years of the Ancien Régime (Oxford, 2007).Back to (11)
  12. Team member Vincent Hiribarren is already planning a project on apartheid era South Africa using our technologies. Other projects have also begun scrutinising our data structures. We will be pleased to assist them.Back to (12)
  13. Mark Curran, Selling Enlightenment: The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe, vol. I (forthcoming, London, 2013). Dr Curran’s book from the project is concerned with the business side of the STN’s bookselling; my own volume will examine the content of books and the discourses and ideas disseminated by the STN.Back to (13)
  14. The Gazetier cuirassé was considered so toxic that Samuel Fauche’s attempts to trade in the work using the STN’s crates led to the break-up of his partnership with the STN: see Michel Schlup, 'La Société typographique de Neuchâtel (1769–1789): Points de repère', in L'Edition neuchâteloise au siècle des Lumières: la Société typographique de Neuchâtel (1769–1789), ed. Michel Schlup (Neuchâtel, 2002), pp. 61–105.Back to (14)
  15. On Brissot’s dealings with the STN: Robert Darnton, J.-P. Brissot and the Société typographique de Neuchâtel (1779–1787) (Oxford, 2001).Back to (15)
  16. Works sold to Gosse by the STN between 1772 and 1774 which resurface in Boissière’s catalogue include the STN’s edition 1772 folio Bible; Emer Vattel’s Le Droit des gens (1773); the comte d’Espagnac’s Histoire de Maurice, comte de Saxe and La Liturgie ou la manière de célébrer le service devin, comme elle est établie dans les églises de la principauté de Neuchâtel et Valangin (1772).Back to (16)
  17. Hugh Gough, ‘Book imports from continental Europe in late eighteenth-century Europe: Luke White and the Société typographique de Neuchâtel’, Long Room, 38 (1993), 35–48; Robert Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 1775–1800 (Harvard, MA, 1979), p. 309. Darnton in fact offered various caveats to his statements, believing that the Quarto edition reached London by indirect means via Panckoucke in Paris.Back to (17)
  18. See note 17 above.Back to (18)
  19. Darnton, Forbidden Bestsellers, p. 16.Back to (19)
  20. The handlist, whose full title is Société typographique correspondants: répertoire géographique is now available on line <> [accessed 21 November 2012]Back to (20)
  21. Andrew Brown, ‘Voltaire et Gabriel Grasset’ in Voltaire et le livre, ed. François Bessire et Françoise Tilkin (Ferney-Voltaire, 2009), pp. 63–91.Back to (21)
  22. Gay’s position is set out above all in Peter Gay, The Enlightenment, an Interpretation (2 vols, New York, NY, 1966–9).Back to (22)
  23. On the Christian enlightenment see particularly Helena Rosenblatt, ‘The Christian Enlightenment’, in Enlightenment, Reawakening and Revolution, ed. Stewart J. Brown and Timothy Tackett (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 283–301; Mark Curran, Atheism, Religion and Enlightenment in Pre-Revolutionary Europe (Woodbridge, 2012).Back to (23)
  24. See Darnton, ‘The high enlightenment and the low-life of literature’.Back to (24)
  25. Darnton, Forbidden Bestsellers, pp. 90–107.Back to (25)
  26. The Last Alchemist is the title of the American edition of Iain McCalman’s superb biography, The Seven Ordeals of Count Cagliostro (London, 2003). I cast some new light on the discrediting of Cagliostro in A King’s Ransom: the Life of Charles Théveneau de Morande, Blackmailer, Scandalmonger and Master-Spy (London, 2010), pp. 157–68.Back to (26)
  27. John Jeanprêtre,’Histoire de la Société typographique de Neuchâtel 1769-1798’, Musée Neuchâtelois (1949), 70–9, 115–20, 148–53. This work also exists as a 22-page booklet: the reference appears at p. 13 therein. I thank Professor Darnton for supplying the reference.Back to (27)