Diderot, by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767
|Died||31 July 1784 70) (aged|
|Alma mater||University of Paris|
|School|| Encyclopédistes |
|Science, literature, philosophy, art|
Denis Diderot (French: [dəni did(ə)ʁo] ; 5 October 1713 –31 July 1784) was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer, best known for serving as co-founder, chief editor, and contributor to the Encyclopédie along with Jean le Rond d'Alembert. He was a prominent figure during the Enlightenment.
An art critic is a person who is specialized in analyzing, interpreting and evaluating art. Their written critiques or reviews contribute to art criticism and they are published in newspapers, magazines, books, exhibition brochures and catalogues and on web sites. Some of today's art critics use art blogs and other online platforms in order to connect with a wider audience and expand debate about art.
Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, better known as Encyclopédie, was a general encyclopedia published in France between 1751 and 1772, with later supplements, revised editions, and translations. It had many writers, known as the Encyclopédistes. It was edited by Denis Diderot and, until 1759, co-edited by Jean le Rond d'Alembert.
Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert was a French mathematician, mechanician, physicist, philosopher, and music theorist. Until 1759 he was co-editor with Denis Diderot of the Encyclopédie. D'Alembert's formula for obtaining solutions to the wave equation is named after him. The wave equation is sometimes referred to as d'Alembert's equation.
Diderot began his education by obtaining a Master of Arts degree in philosophy at a Jesuit college in 1732. He considered working in the church clergy before briefly studying law. When he decided to become a writer in 1734, his father disowned him for not entering one of the learned professions. He lived a bohemian existence for the next decade. He befriended philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1742.
The Society of Jesus is a scholarly religious congregation of the Catholic Church for men which originated in sixteenth-century Spain. The members are called Jesuits. The society is engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry in 112 nations. Jesuits work in education, intellectual research, and cultural pursuits. Jesuits also give retreats, minister in hospitals and parishes, sponsor direct social ministries, and promote ecumenical dialogue.
A profession is an occupation founded upon specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to supply disinterested objective counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain. The term is a truncation of the term "liberal profession", which is, in turn, an Anglicization of the French term "profession libérale". Originally borrowed by English users in the 19th century, it has been re-borrowed by international users from the late 20th, though the (upper-middle) class overtones of the term do not seem to survive retranslation: "liberal professions" are, according to the European Union's Directive on Recognition of Professional Qualifications (2005/36/EC) "those practiced on the basis of relevant professional qualifications in a personal, responsible and professionally independent capacity by those providing intellectual and conceptual services in the interest of the client and the public".
Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people and with few permanent ties. It involves musical, artistic, literary or spiritual pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may or may not be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.
Though his work was broad as well as rigorous, it did not bring Diderot riches. He secured none of the posts that were occasionally given to needy men of letters; he could not even obtain the bare official recognition of merit that was implied by being chosen a member of the Académie française. He saw no alternative to selling his library to provide a dowry for his daughter. Empress Catherine II of Russia heard of his financial troubles and commissioned an agent in Paris to buy the library. She then requested that the philosopher retain the books in Paris until she required them, and act as her librarian with a yearly salary.Between October 1773 and March 1774, the sick Diderot spent a few months at the empress's court in Saint Petersburg.
The Académie française is the pre-eminent French council for matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution, it was restored as a division of the Institut de France in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is the oldest of the five académies of the institute.
A dowry is a transfer of parental property, gifts or money at the marriage of a daughter. Dowry contrasts with the related concepts of bride price and dower. While bride price or bride service is a payment by the groom or his family to the bride's parents, dowry is the wealth transferred from the bride's family to the groom or his family, ostensibly for the bride. Similarly, dower is the property settled on the bride herself, by the groom at the time of marriage, and which remains under her ownership and control. Dowry is an ancient custom, and its existence may well predate records of it. Dowries continue to be expected and demanded as a condition to accept a marriage proposal in some parts of the world, mainly in parts of Asia, Northern Africa and the Balkans. In some parts of the world, disputes related to dowry sometimes result in acts of violence against women, including killings and acid attacks. The custom of dowry is most common in cultures that are strongly patrilineal and that expect women to reside with or near their husband's family (patrilocality). Dowries have a long history in Europe, South Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.
Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great, born Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, was Empress of Russia from 1762 until 1796, the country's longest-ruling female leader. She came to power following a coup d'état which she organized—resulting in her husband, Peter III, being overthrown. Under her reign, Russia was revitalized; it grew larger and stronger and was recognized as one of the great powers of Europe. That said, however, she was a usurper of the Russian throne because her son, Paul I, should have naturally been the Tsar following Peter III’s death.
Diderot died of pulmonary thrombosis in Paris on 31 July 1784, and was buried in the city's Église Saint-Roch. His heirs sent his vast library to Catherine II, who had it deposited at the National Library of Russia. He has several times been denied burial in the Panthéon with other French notables.The French government considered memorializing him in this fashion on the 300th anniversary of his birth, but this did not come to pass.
Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a blockage of an artery in the lungs by a substance that has moved from elsewhere in the body through the bloodstream (embolism). Symptoms of a PE may include shortness of breath, chest pain particularly upon breathing in, and coughing up blood. Symptoms of a blood clot in the leg may also be present, such as a red, warm, swollen, and painful leg. Signs of a PE include low blood oxygen levels, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, and sometimes a mild fever. Severe cases can lead to passing out, abnormally low blood pressure, and sudden death.
The Church of Saint-Roch is a late Baroque 126 meter-long church in Paris, dedicated to Saint Roch. Located at 284 rue Saint-Honoré, in the 1st arrondissement, it was built between 1653 and 1740.
The National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg, is not only the oldest public library in the nation, but also the first national library in the country. The NLR is currently ranked among the world’s major libraries. It has the second richest library collection in the Russian Federation, a treasury of national heritage, and is the All-Russian Information, Research and Cultural Center. Over the course of its history, the Library has aimed for comprehensive acquisition of the national printed output and has provided free access to its collections. It should not be confused with the Russian State Library, located in Moscow.
Diderot's literary reputation during his lifetime rested primarily on his plays and his contributions to the Encyclopédie; many of his most important works, including Jacques the Fatalist, Rameau's Nephew , Paradox of the Actor , and D'Alembert's Dream , were published only after his death.
Jacques the Fatalist and his Master is a novel by Denis Diderot, written during the period 1765–1780. The first French edition was published posthumously in 1796, but it was known earlier in Germany, thanks to Goethe's partial translation, which appeared in 1785 and was retranslated into French in 1793, as well as Mylius's complete German version of 1792.
Rameau's Nephew, or the Second Satire is an imaginary philosophical conversation by Denis Diderot, written predominantly in 1761-2 and revised in 1773-4.
Paradox of the Actor is a dramatic essay by Denis Diderot elucidating a theory of acting in which it is argued that great actors do not experience the emotions they are displaying.
Denis Diderot was born in Langres, Champagne. His parents were Didier Diderot (1685–1759), a cutler, maître coutelier, and his wife, Angélique Vigneron (1677–1748). Three of five siblings survived to adulthood, Denise Diderot (1715–1797) and their youngest brother Pierre-Didier Diderot (1722–1787), and finally their sister Angélique Diderot (1720–1749). According to Arthur McCandless Wilson, Denis Diderot greatly admired his sister Denise, sometimes referring to her as "a female Socrates".
Langres is a commune in northeastern France. It is a subprefecture of the department of Haute-Marne, in the region of Grand Est.
Didier Diderot was a French craftsman and the father of the encyclopedist, author, philosopher of enlightenment Denis Diderot.
Cutlery includes any hand implement used in preparing, serving, and especially eating food in Western culture. A person who makes or sells cutlery is called a cutler. The city of Sheffield in England has been famous for the production of cutlery since the 17th century and a train – the Master Cutler – running from Sheffield to London was named after the industry.
Diderot began his formal education at a Jesuit college in Langres, earning a Master of Arts degree in philosophy in 1732. He then entered the Collège d'Harcourt of the University of Paris. He abandoned the idea of entering the clergy in 1735,and instead decided to study at the Paris Law Faculty. His study of law was short-lived however and in the early 1740s, he decided to become a writer and translator. Because of his refusal to enter one of the learned professions, he was disowned by his father, and for the next ten years he lived a bohemian existence.
In 1742, he befriended Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom he met while watching games of chess and drinking coffee at the Café de la Régence.In 1743, he further alienated his father by marrying Antoinette Champion (1710–1796), a devout Roman Catholic. The match was considered inappropriate due to Champion's low social standing, poor education, fatherless status, and lack of a dowry. She was about three years older than Diderot. The marriage, in October 1743, produced one surviving child, a girl. Her name was Angélique, named after both Diderot's dead mother and sister. The death of his sister, a nun, in her convent may have affected Diderot's opinion of religion. She is assumed to have been the inspiration for his novel about a nun, La Religieuse , in which he depicts a woman who is forced to enter a convent where she suffers at the hands of the other nuns in the community.
Diderot had affairs with Mlle. Babuti (who would marry Greuze), Madeleine de Puisieux, Sophie Volland and Mme de Maux.His letters to Sophie Volland are known for their candor and are regarded to be "among the literary treasures of the eighteenth century".
Diderot's earliest works included a translation of Temple Stanyan's History of Greece (1743); with two colleagues, François-Vincent Toussaint and Marc-Antoine Eidous, he produced a translation of Robert James's Medicinal Dictionary (1746–1748).In 1745, he published a translation of Shaftesbury's Inquiry Concerning Virtue and Merit, to which he had added his own "reflections".
In 1746, Diderot wrote his first original work: the Philosophical Thoughts (French:Pensées philosophiques).In this book, Diderot argued for a reconciliation of reason with feeling so as to establish harmony. According to Diderot, without feeling there is a detrimental effect on virtue, and no possibility of creating sublime work. However, since feeling without discipline can be destructive, reason is necessary to control feeling.
At the time Diderot wrote this book he was a deist. Hence there is a defense of deism in this book, and some arguments against atheism.The book also contains criticism of Christianity.
In 1747, Diderot wrote The Skeptic's Walk (French:Promenade du sceptique)in which a deist, an atheist, and a pantheist have a dialogue on the nature of divinity. The deist gives the argument from design. The atheist says that the universe is better explained by physics, chemistry, matter, and motion. The pantheist says that the cosmic unity of mind and matter, which are co-eternal and comprise the universe, is God. This work remained unpublished till 1830. The local police—warned by the priests of another attack on Christianity—either seized the manuscript, or authorities forced Diderot give an undertaking that he would not publish this work, according to different versions of what happened.
In 1748, Diderot needed to raise money on short notice. He had become a father through his wife, and his mistress Mme. de Puisieux was making financial demands from him. At this time, Diderot had stated to Mme. de Puisieux that writing a novel was a trivial task, whereupon she challenged him to write a novel. In response, Diderot wrote his novel The Indiscreet Jewels (French:Les bijoux indiscrets). The book is about the magical ring of a Sultan which induces any woman's "discreet jewels"to confess their sexual experiences when the ring is pointed at them. In all, the ring is pointed at thirty different women in the book—usually at a dinner or a social meeting—with the Sultan typically being visible to the woman. However, since the ring has the additional property of making its owner invisible when required, a few of the sexual experiences recounted are through direct observation with the Sultan making himself invisible and placing his person in the unsuspecting woman's boudoir.
Besides the bawdiness there are several digressions into philosophy, music, and literature in the book. In one such philosophical digression, the Sultan has a dream in which he sees a child named "Experiment" growing bigger and stronger till it demolishes an ancient temple named "Hypothesis". The book proved to be lucrative for Diderot even though it could only be sold clandestinely. It is Diderot's most published work.
The book is believed to be an imitation of Le Sopha.
Diderot would keep writing on science in a desultory way all his life. The scientific work of which he was most proud was Memoires sur differents sujets de mathematique (1748). This work contains original ideas on acoustics, tension, air resistance, and "a project for a new organ" which could be played by all. Some of Diderot's scientific works were applauded by contemporary publications of his time like The Gentleman's Magazine, the Journal des savants; and the Jesuit publication Journal de Trevoux, which invited more such work: "on the part of a man as clever and able as M. Diderot seems to be, of whom we should also observe that his style is as elegant, trenchant, and unaffected as it is lively and ingenious."
Diderot's celebrated Letter on the Blind (Lettre sur les aveugles à l'usage de ceux qui voient) (1749) introduced him to the world as an original thinker.The subject is a discussion of the interrelation between man's reason and the knowledge acquired through perception (the five senses). The title of his book also evoked some ironic doubt about who exactly were "the blind" under discussion. In the essay, blind English mathematician Nicholas Saunderson argues that, since knowledge derives from the senses, mathematics is the only form of knowledge that both he and a sighted person can agree on. It is suggested that the blind could be taught to read through their sense of touch. (A later essay, Lettre sur les sourds et muets, considered the case of a similar deprivation in the deaf and mute.) According to Jonathan Israel, what makes the Lettre sur les aveugles so remarkable, however, is its distinct, if undeveloped, presentation of the theory of variation and natural selection.
This powerful essay, for which La Mettrie expressed warm appreciation in 1751, revolves around a remarkable deathbed scene in which a dying blind philosopher, Saunderson, rejects the arguments of a deist clergyman who endeavours to win him round to a belief in a providential God during his last hours. Saunderson's arguments are those of a neo-Spinozist Naturalist and fatalist, using a sophisticated notion of the self-generation and natural evolution of species without Creation or supernatural intervention. The notion of "thinking matter" is upheld and the "argument from design" discarded (following La Mettrie) as hollow and unconvincing. The work appeared anonymously in Paris in June 1749, and was vigorously suppressed by the authorities. Diderot, who had been under police surveillance since 1747, was swiftly identified as the author, had his manuscripts confiscated, and was imprisoned for some months, under a lettre de cachet , on the outskirts of Paris, in the dungeons at Vincennes where he was visited almost daily by Rousseau, at the time his closest and most assiduous ally.
Voltaire wrote an enthusiastic letter to Diderot commending the Lettre and stating that he had held Diderot in high regard for a long time to which Diderot had sent a warm response. Soon after this, Diderot was arrested.
Science historian Conway Zirkle has written that Diderot was an early evolutionary thinker and noted that his passage that described natural selection was "so clear and accurate that it almost seems that we would be forced to accept his conclusions as a logical necessity even in the absence of the evidence collected since his time."
Angered by public resentment over the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, the government started incarcerating many of its critics. It was decided at this time to rein in Diderot. On 23 July 1749, the governor of the Vincennes fortress instructed the police to incarcerate Diderot, and the next day he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in the Vincennes. He had been permitted to retain one book that he had in his possession at the time of his arrest, Paradise Lost , which he read during his incarceration. He wrote notes and annotations on the book, using a toothpick as a pen, and ink that he made by scraping slate from the walls and mixing it with wine.
In August 1749, Mme du Chatelet, presumably at Voltaire's behest, wrote to the governor of Vincennes, who was her relative, pleading that Diderot be lodged more comfortably while jailed. The governor then offered Diderot access to the great halls of the Vincennes castle and the freedom to receive books and visitors providing he would write a document of submission.On 13 August 1749, Diderot wrote to the governor:
I admit to you...that the Pensees, the Bijoux, and the Lettre sur les aveugles are debaucheries of the mind that escaped from me; but I can...promise you on my honor (and I do have honor) that they will be the last, and that they are the only ones...As for those who have taken part in the publication of these works, nothing will be hidden from you. I shall depose verbally, in the depths[secrecy] of your heart, the names both of the publishers and the printers.
On 20 August, Diderot was lodged in a comfortable room in the Vincennes, allowed to meet visitors, and to walk in the gardens of the Vincennes. On 23 August, Diderot signed another letter promising to never leave the Vincennes without permission.On 3 November 1749, Diderot was released from the Vincennes. Subsequently, in 1750, he released the prospectus for the Encyclopédie .
André le Breton, a bookseller and printer, approached Diderot with a project for the publication of a translation of Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences into French, first undertaken by the Englishman John Mills, and followed by the German Gottfried Sellius.Diderot accepted the proposal, and transformed it. He persuaded Le Breton to publish a new work, which would consolidate ideas and knowledge from the Republic of Letters. The publishers found capital for a larger enterprise than they had first planned. Jean le Rond d'Alembert was persuaded to become Diderot's colleague, and permission was procured from the government.
In 1750 an elaborate prospectus announced the project, and in 1751 the first volume was published.This work was unorthodox and advanced for the time. Diderot stated that "An encyclopedia ought to make good the failure to execute such a project hitherto, and should encompass not only the fields already covered by the academies, but each and every branch of human knowledge." Comprehensive knowledge will give "the power to change men's common way of thinking." The work combined scholarship with information on trades. Diderot emphasized the abundance of knowledge within each subject area. Everyone would benefit from these insights.
Diderot's work, however, was mired in controversy from the beginning; the project was suspended by the courts in 1752. Just as the second volume was completed accusations arose regarding seditious content, concerning the editor's entries on religion and natural law. Diderot was detained and his house was searched for manuscripts for subsequent articles: but the search proved fruitless as no manuscripts could be found. They were hidden in the house of an unlikely confederate—Chretien de Lamoignon Malesherbes, who originally ordered the search. Although Malesherbes was a staunch absolutist, and loyal to the monarchy - he was sympathetic to the literary project. Along with his support, and that of other well-placed influential confederates, the project resumed. Diderot returned to his efforts only to be constantly embroiled in controversy.
These twenty years were to Diderot not merely a time of incessant drudgery, but harassing persecution and desertion of friends. The ecclesiastical party detested the Encyclopédie, in which they saw a rising stronghold for their philosophic enemies. By 1757 they could endure it no longer - the subscribers had grown from 2,000 to 4,000, a measure of the growth of the work in popular influence and power.Diderot wanted the Encyclopédie to give all the knowledge of the world to the people of France. However, the Encyclopédie threatened the governing social classes of France (aristocracy) because it took for granted the justice of religious tolerance, freedom of thought, and the value of science and industry. It asserted the doctrine that the main concern of the nation's government ought to be the nation's common people. It was believed that the Encyclopédie was the work of an organized band of conspirators against society, and that the dangerous ideas they held were made truly formidable by their open publication. In 1759, the Encyclopédie was formally suppressed. The decree did not stop the work, which went on, but its difficulties increased by the necessity of being clandestine. Jean le Rond d'Alembert withdrew from the enterprise and other powerful colleagues, including Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune, declined to contribute further to a book which had acquired a bad reputation.
Diderot was left to finish the task as best he could. He wrote 7,000 articles,some very slight, but many of them laborious, comprehensive, and long. He damaged his eyesight correcting proofs and editing the manuscripts of less competent contributors. He spent his days at workshops, mastering manufacturing processes, and his nights writing what he had learned during the day. He was incessantly harassed by threats of police raids. The last copies of the first volume were issued in 1765.
In 1764, when his immense work was drawing to an end, he encountered a crowning mortification: he discovered that the bookseller, Le Breton, fearing the government's displeasure, had struck out from the proof sheets, after they had left Diderot's hands, all passages that he considered too dangerous. "He and his printing-house overseer," writes Furbank, "had worked in complete secrecy, and had moreover deliberately destroyed the author's original manuscript so that the damage could not be repaired."The monument to which Diderot had given the labor of twenty long and oppressive years was irreparably mutilated and defaced. It was 12 years, in 1772, before the subscribers received the final 28 folio volumes of the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers since the first volume had been published.
When Diderot's work on the Encyclopédie project came to a end in 1765, he expressed concerns to his friends that the twenty-five years he had spent on the project had been wasted.
Although the Encyclopédie was Diderot's most monumental product, he was the author of many other works that sowed nearly every intellectual field with new and creative ideas.Diderot's writing ranges from a graceful trifle like the Regrets sur ma vieille robe de chambre (Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown) up to the heady D'Alembert's Dream (Le Rêve de d'Alembert) (composed 1769), a philosophical dialogue in which he plunges into the depths of the controversy as to the ultimate constitution of matter and the meaning of life. Jacques le fataliste (written in 1773, but not published until 1792 in German and 1796 in French) is similar to Tristram Shandy and The Sentimental Journey in its challenge to the conventional novel's structure and content.
The dialogue Rameau's Nephew (French: Le Neveu de Rameau) is a "farce-tragedy" reminiscent of the Satires of Horace, a favorite classical author of Diderot's whose lines "Vertumnis, quotquot sunt, natus iniquis" ("A man born when every single Vertumnus was out of sorts") appear as epigraph. According to Nicholas Cronk, Rameau's Nephew is "arguably the greatest work of the French Enlightenment's greatest writer."
Diderot's intention in writing the dialogue—whether as a satire on contemporary manners, a reduction of the theory of self-interest to an absurdity, the application of irony to the ethics of ordinary convention, a mere setting for a discussion about music, or a vigorous dramatic sketch of a parasite and a human original—is disputed. In political terms it explores "the bipolarisation of the social classes under absolute monarchy," and insofar as its protagonist demonstrates how the servant often manipulates the master, Le Neveu de Rameau can be seen to anticipate Hegel's master–slave dialectic.
The narrator in the book recounts a conversation with Jean-François Rameau, nephew of the famous Jean-Philippe Rameau. The nephew composes and teaches music with some success but feels disadvantaged by his name and is jealous of his uncle. Eventually he sinks into an indolent and debauched state. After his wife's death, he loses all self-esteem and his brusque manners result in him being ostracized by former friends. A character profile of the nephew is now sketched by Diderot: a man who was once wealthy and comfortable with a pretty wife, who is now living in poverty and decadence, shunned by his friends. And yet this man retains enough of his past to analyze his despondency philosophically and maintains his sense of humor. Essentially he believes in nothing—not in religion, nor in morality; nor in the Roussean view about nature being better than civilization since in his opinion every species in nature consumes one another.He views the same process at work in the economic world where men consume each other through the legal system. The wise man, according to the nephew, will consequently practice hedonism:
Hurrah for wisdom and philosophy!--the wisdom of Solomon: to drink good wines, gorge on choice foods, tumble pretty women, sleep on downy beds; outside of that, all is vanity.
The dialogue ends with Diderot calling the nephew a wastrel, a coward, and a glutton devoid of spiritual values to which the nephew replies: "I believe you are right."
The publication history of the Nephew is circuitous. Written in 1761, Diderot never saw the work through to publication during his lifetime, and apparently did not even share it with his friends. After Diderot's death, a copy of the text reached Schiller, who gave it to Goethe, who, in 1805, translated the work into German.Goethe's translation entered France, and was retranslated into French in 1821. Another copy of the text was published in 1823, but it had been expurgated by Diderot's daughter prior to publication. The original manuscript was only found in 1891.
Diderot's most intimate friend was the philologist Friedrich Melchior Grimm.They were brought together by their friend in common at that time, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In 1753, Grimm began writing a newsletter, the La Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique, which he would send to various high personages in Europe.
In 1759, Grimm asked Diderot to report on the biennial art exhibitions in the Louvre for the Correspondance. Diderot reported on the Salons between 1759 and 1771 and again in 1775 and 1781.Diderot's reports would become "the most celebrated contributions to La Correspondance."
According to Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Diderot's reports initiated the French into a new way of laughing, and introduced people to the mystery and purport of colour by ideas. "Before Diderot", Anne Louise Germaine de Staël wrote, "I had never seen anything in pictures except dull and lifeless colours; it was his imagination that gave them relief and life, and it is almost a new sense for which I am indebted to his genius".
Diderot had appended an Essai sur la peinture to his report on the 1765 Salon in which he expressed his views on artistic beauty. Goethe described the Essai sur la peinture as "a magnificent work; it speaks even more usefully to the poet than to the painter, though for the painter too it is a torch of blazing illumination".
Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805) was Diderot's favorite contemporary artist.Diderot appreciated Greuze's sentimentality, and more particularly Greuze's portrayals of his wife who had once been Diderot's mistress.
Diderot wrote sentimental plays, Le Fils naturel (1757) and Le Père de famille (1758), accompanying them with essays on theatrical theory and practice, including "Les Entretiens sur Le Fils Naturel" (Conversations on The Natural Son), in which he announced the principles of a new drama: the 'serious genre', a realistic midpoint between comedy and tragedy that stood in opposition to the stilted conventions of the classical French stage. In 1758, Diderot introduced the concept of the fourth wall, the imaginary "wall" at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set in a proscenium theatre, through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play.
When the Russian Empress Catherine the Great heard that Diderot was in need of money, she arranged to buy his library and appoint him caretaker of it until his death, at a salary of 1,000 livres per year. She even paid him 50 years salary in advance.Although Diderot hated traveling, he was obliged to visit her.
On 9 October 1773, he reached St. Petersburg, met Catherine the next day and they had several discussions on various subjects. During his five-month stay at her court, he met her almost every day.During these conversations, he would later state, they spoke 'man to man'.
He would occasionally make his point by slapping her thighs. In a letter to Madame Geoffrin, Catherine wrote:
Your Diderot is an extraordinary man. I emerge from interviews with him with my thighs bruised and quite black. I have been obliged to put a table between us to protect myself and my members.
One of the topics discussed was Diderot's ideas about how to transform Russia into a utopia. In a letter to Comte de Ségur, the Empress wrote that if she followed Diderot's advice, chaos would ensue in her kingdom.
When returning, Diderot asked the Empress for 1,500 rubles as reimbursement for his trip. She gave him 3,000 rubles, an expensive ring, and an officer to escort him back to Paris. He would write a eulogy in her honor on reaching Paris.
In 1766, when Catherine heard that Diderot had not received his annual fee for editing the Encyclopédie (an important source of income for the philosopher), she arranged for him to receive a massive sum of 50,000 livres as an advance for his services as her librarian.
In July 1784, upon hearing that Diderot was in poor health, Catherine arranged for him to move into a luxurious suite in the Rue de Richelieu. Diderot died two weeks after moving there—on 31 July 1784.
Among Diderot's last works were notes "On the Instructions of her Imperial Majesty...for the Drawing up of Laws". This commentary on Russia included replies to some arguments Catherine had made in the Nakaz.Diderot wrote that Catherine was certainly despotic, due to circumstances and training, but was not inherently tyrannical. Thus, if she wished to destroy despotism in Russia, she should abdicate her throne and destroy anyone who tries to revive the monarchy. She should publicly declare that "there is no true sovereign other than the nation, and there can be no true legislator other than the people." She should create a new Russian legal code establishing an independent legal framework and starting with the text: "We the people, and we the sovereign of this people, swear conjointly these laws, by which we are judged equally." In the Nakaz, Catherine had written: "It is for legislation to follow the spirit of the nation." Diderot's rebuttal stated that it is for legislation to make the spirit of the nation. For instance, he argued, it is not appropriate to make public executions unnecessarily horrific.
Ultimately, Diderot decided not to send these notes to Catherine; however, they were delivered to her with his other papers after he died. When she read them, she was furious and commented that they were an incoherent gibberish devoid of prudence, insight, and verisimilitude.
In his youth, Diderot was originally a follower of Voltaire and his deist Anglomanie, but gradually moved away from this line of thought towards materialism and atheism, a move which was finally realised in 1747 in the philosophical debate in the second part of his The Skeptic's Walk (1747).Diderot opposed mysticism and occultism, which were highly prevalent in France at the time he wrote, and believed religious truth claims must fall under the domain of reason, not mystical experience or esoteric secrets. However, Diderot showed some interest in the work of Paracelsus. He was "a philosopher in whom all the contradictions of the time struggle with one another" (Rosenkranz).
In his 1754 book On the interpretation of Nature , Diderot expounded on his views about Nature, evolution, materialism, mathematics, and experimental science.It is speculated that Diderot may have contributed to his friend Baron d'Holbach's 1770 book The System of Nature . Diderot had enthusiastically endorsed the book stating that:
What I like is a philosophy clear, definite, and frank, such as you have in the System of Nature. The author is not an atheist on one page and a deist on another. His philosophy is all of one piece.
In conceiving the Encyclopédie, Diderot had thought of the work as a fight on behalf of posterity and had expressed confidence that posterity would be grateful for his effort. According to Diderot, "posterity is for the philosopher what the 'other world' is for the man of religion."
Marmontel and Henri Meister commented on the great pleasure of having intellectual conversations with Diderot.Morellet, a regular attendee at D'Holbach's salon, wrote: "It is there that I heard...Diderot treat questions of philosophy, art, or literature, and by his wealth of expression, fluency, and inspired appearance, hold our attention for a long stretch of time." Diderot's contemporary, and rival, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in his Confessions that after a few centuries Diderot would be accorded as much respect by posterity as was given to Plato and Aristotle. In Germany, Goethe, Schiller, and Lessing expressed admiration for Diderot's writings, Goethe pronouncing Diderot's Rameau's Nephew to be "the classical work of an outstanding man" and that "Diderot is Diderot, a unique individual; whoever carps at him and his affairs is a philistine."
In the next century, Diderot was admired by Balzac, Delacroix, Stendhal, Zola, and Schopenhauer.According to Comte, Diderot was the foremost intellectual in an exciting age. Historian Michelet described him as "the true Prometheus" and stated that Diderot's ideas would continue to remain influential long into the future. Marx chose Diderot as his "favourite prose-writer."
Otis Fellows and Norman Torrey have described Diderot as "the most interesting and provocative figure of the French eighteenth century."
In 1993, American writer Cathleen Schine published Rameau's Niece, a satire of academic life in New York that took as its premise a woman's research into an (imagined) 18th-century pornographic parody of Diderot's Rameau's Nephew. The book was praised by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times as "a nimble philosophical satire of the academic mind" and "an enchanting comedy of modern manners."
French author Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt wrote a play titled Le Libertin (The Libertine) which imagines a day in Diderot's life including a fictional sitting for a woman painter which becomes sexually charged but is interrupted by the demands of editing the Encyclopédie.It was first staged at Paris' Théâtre Montparnasse in 1997 starring Bernard Giraudeau as Diderot and Christiane Cohendy as Madame Therbouche and was well received by critics.
In 2013, the tricentennial of Diderot's birth, his hometown of Langres held a series of events in his honor and produced an audio tour of the town highlighting places that were part of Diderot's past, including the remains of the convent where his sister Angélique took her vows.On 6 October 2013, a museum of the Enlightenment focusing on Diderot's contributions to the movement, the Maison des Lumières Denis Diderot, was inaugurated in Langres.
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Catherine: "You have a hot head, and I have one too. We interrupt each other, we do not hear what the other one says, and so we say stupid things." Diderot: "With this difference, that when I interrupt your Majesty, I commit a great impertinence." Catherine: "No, between men there is no such thing as impertinence."
Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach, was a French-German author, philosopher, encyclopedist and prominent figure in the French Enlightenment. He was born Paul Heinrich Dietrich in Edesheim, near Landau in the Rhenish Palatinate, but lived and worked mainly in Paris, where he kept a salon. He was well known for his atheism and for his voluminous writings against religion, the most famous of them being The System of Nature (1770).
Louise Florence Pétronille Tardieu d'Esclavelles d'Épinay, better known as Mme. d'Épinay, was a French writer, a saloniste and woman of fashion, known on account of her liaisons with Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who gives unflattering reports of her in his Confessions, as well as her acquaintanceship with Denis Diderot, Jean le Rond d'Alembert, Baron d'Holbach and other French men of letters during the Enlightenment. She was also one of many women referenced in Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex as an example of noble expansion of women's rights during the 18th century.
The Encyclopédistes were members of the Société des gens de lettres, a French writer's society, who contributed to the development of the Encyclopédie from June 1751 to December 1765 under editors Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert. The composition of the 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of plates of the Encyclopédie was the work of over 150 authors belonging, in large part, to the intellectual group known as the philosophes. They promoted the advancement of science and secular thought and supported tolerance, rationality, and open-mindedness of the Enlightenment.
The System of Nature or, the Laws of the Moral and Physical World is a work of philosophy by Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach (1723–1789). It was originally published under the name of Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud, a deceased member of the French Academy of Science. D'Holbach wrote and published this book – possibly with the assistance of Diderot but with the support of Jacques-André Naigeon – anonymously in 1770, describing the universe in terms of the principles of philosophical materialism: The mind is identified with brain, there is no "soul" without a living body, the world is governed by strict deterministic laws, free will is an illusion, there are no final causes, and whatever happens takes place because it inexorably must. Most notoriously, the work explicitly denies the existence of God, arguing that belief in a higher being is the product of fear, lack of understanding, and anthropomorphism.
18th-century French literature is French literature written between 1715, the year of the death of King Louis XIV of France, and 1798, the year of the coup d'État of Bonaparte which brought the Consulate to power, concluded the French Revolution, and began the modern era of French history. This century of enormous economic, social, intellectual and political transformation produced two important literary and philosophical movements: during what became known as the Age of Enlightenment, the Philosophes questioned all existing institutions, including the church and state, and applied rationalism and scientific analysis to society; and a very different movement, which emerged in reaction to the first movement; the beginnings of Romanticism, which exalted the role of emotion in art and life.
The Indiscreet Jewels is the first novel by Denis Diderot, published anonymously in 1748. It is an allegory that portrays Louis XV as the sultan Mangogul of the Congo who owns a magic ring that makes women's genitals ("jewels") talk. The character of Mirzoza is a parable of Madame de Pompadour. Diderot portrayed Pompadour in a flattering light in The Indiscreet Jewels, most likely to ensure her support for his Encyclopedie.
Louis de Cahusac was an 18th-century French playwright and librettist, and Freemason, most famous for his work with the composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. He provided the libretti for several of Rameau's operas, namely Les fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour (1747), Zaïs (1748), Naïs (1749), Zoroastre, La naissance d'Osiris (1754), and Anacréon. He is also credited with writing the libretto of Rameau's final work, Les Boréades. Cahusac contributed to the Encyclopédie and was the lover of Marie Fel.
D'Holbach's Coterie was a group of radical French Enlightenment thinkers who met regularly at the salon of the atheist philosophe Baron d'Holbach in the years approximately 1750–1780. An enormously wealthy man, the Baron used his wealth to maintain one of the more notable and lavish Parisian salons, which soon became an important meeting place for philosophes and their guests, and where Diderot recruited at least a few of the contributors to the Encyclopédie. Meetings were held regularly twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays, in d'Holbach's home in rue Royale, butte Saint-Roche. Visitors to the salon were exclusively males, and the tone of discussion was both lively and quite philosophical, extending to topics more extensive and generally more candid and more earnest than those of other salons. Few subjects were taboo, and sharp disagreements were welcomed.
Abraham-Alexis Quinault, called Quinault-Dufresne,(9 September 1693 in Verdun – 12 February 1767 in Paris) was a French actor. He was a member of the Quinault family of actors.
Philosophical Thoughts is a 1746 book composed by Denis Diderot; it was his first original work.
Letter on the Deaf and Dumb, for the Use of those who hear and speak is a work by Denis Diderot containing a psychological investigation on the deaf-mute. It was published in 1751. It was meant to be a companion volume to Diderot's Letter on the Blind.
On the interpretation of Nature is a 1754 book written by Denis Diderot.
Essay on the Life of Seneca was one of the final works of Denis Diderot. It contains an analysis of the life and works of Seneca, criticism of La Mettrie and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, autobiographical notes, and a tribute to modern America. It was published in 1779. In 1782 a revised and expanded version of this essay titled Essay on the Reigns of Claudius and Nero was published.
Jeanne-Catherine de Maux (1725-?), better known as Mme de Maux , was a natural daughter of Quinault-Dufresne. In 1737, aged twelve, she married a lawyer in Paris. She later became a lover of Denis Diderot's friend Damilaville. Some time after Damilaville's death, in 1768, she became the lover of Diderot, but later left him for a younger man.She is considered significant because many letters written by Diderot to her, containing scientific, philosophical, and romantic content, have survived. Diderot began writing Sur les femmes soon after his romantic relationship with Mme de Maux had ended. It has been stated that his romantic dalliance with Mme de Maux resulted in Diderot producing some of his best writings on love, sex, and sexuality.
Alexandre Deleyre was an 18th-century French man of letters.
Laurent Durand was an 18th-century French publisher active in the Age of Enlightenment. His shop was established rue Saint-Jacques under the sign Saint Landry & du griffon.
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