A Brill Calendar: December 28
Bayle's "Dictionaire Historique et Critique"
Few books published just before the turn of the 17th century were as decisive for European culture since as the ‘Dictionaire historique et critique’ (1697).
The author, Pierre Bayle, was a Frenchman, born in Carla-le-Comte in 1647 and who fled his country as teacher of philosophy at the Protestant Academy of Sedan, north-eastern France, for a site better tuned to his ideas: namely the city of Rotterdam in Holland.
Bayle, a non-conformist ‘par excellence’, was in his mid-thirties when he made this crucial decision. A little later the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) by Louis XIV would further aggravate Protestant life in his Kingdom. When Bayle died in Rotterdam, (on December 28th 1706, at the age of 59), where he came to find himself ‘chez soi’, the shadow of a presumed political scheme to switch the allegiance of the Republic of the United Provinces from alliance with England and Austria to France lay heavily with him.
Yet, his grand ‘Dictionaire’ had already begun its march through time. Bayle construed the foundations on which Voltaire would soon build. It is seldom that a philosophical ‘magnum opus’ develops into an ‘ever-seller’, even in the first half of the 18th century.
In his elegant and informative history of Brill (Leyden, 2008) Sytze van der Veen indicates the stature of Bayle’s chef d’oeuvre later: ‘The monumental fourth edition of Bayle’s ‘Dictionaire Historique et Critique’ (1730) was a monster-production of Samuel Luchtmans and seven book-traders in Amsterdam. After a while, the print-run was exhausted; a new one, the fifth, was published in 1740. On that occasion as many as fifteen businessmen took a share in the costly production. Luchtmans participated for one twelfth in all costs, in exchange for one twelfth of the print-run. The total costs for 3288 copies amounted to 46.000 Dutch Guilder, an amount of money beyond the imagination of those days.’ (translation wd)