Enlightenment History and Antiphilosophie: Voltaire and Nonnotte in France, Spain and Italy

Patrizia Delpiano, Università di Torino

This article deals with the responses to Enlightenment history that emerged in antiphilosophique cultural circles and offers some pointers on the international dimension of this intellectual movement, so far studied mostly within the confines of individual states.

Attention focuses on the case of the French Jesuit Claude-Adrien François Nonnotte (1711–1793), author of Les erreurs de Voltaire, published in 1762. After describing the essential features of this text, specifically its discourse on history, the article concentrates on its Spanish and Italian translations in order to highlight the European character of antiphilosophie and the different uses made of Nonnotte’s work in various contexts.

The historical thought of the Enlightenment, on the one hand, and the reactions to Enlightenment ideas, on the other, have both been the subject of historiographical research, but the two have so far not been linked together in an organic discourse. The objective of this article is to intertwine the two themes by studying the responses to Enlightenment history that emerged in antiphilosophique cultural circles, in other words in the culture that in the second half of the eighteenth century instigated a critical, albeit varied, discussion with the world of the Enlightenment.

While the turning point brought about by the Enlightenment in the cosmopolitan and secularist approach to history is well known, albeit disputable, we know little about the extent to which historical discourse pervaded the literature hostile to the Enlightenment, as well as about the understanding, on the part of the antiphilosophes, of this historiographic turn and aboutits importance in the intellectual debates of the time. The intent here is also to offer some pointers on the international dimension of antiphilosophique culture, so far studied mostly within the confines of individual states. To launch an initial reflection I thought it useful to present a specific case study.

The historical work of Voltaire seems like a good starting point considering the public role played by the philosophe and the controversies caused by his literary activity far beyond the borders of France. It will help us therefore to quickly recall his historical works, without dwelling on the complex events surrounding their publication. They are Le siècle de Louis XIV (1751), Histoire des croisades (1745–1751), Abregé de l’ histoire universelle (1753), Essai sur l’ histoire universelle (1754–1758) and La philosophie de l’ histoire(1765), all of which were subject to institutional censorship before becoming the polemical target of conservative literary scholars.

Of these, I have chosen to examine in detail the case of the French Jesuit Claude-Adrien François Nonnotte (1711–1793), author of Les erreurs de Voltaire, published in 1762. After describing the essential features of this text, specifically its dis-course on history (see the second section), I will concentrate on its Spanish and Italian translations in order to highlight the European character of antiphilosophie and the different uses made of Nonnotte’s work in various contexts.

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