Unintended Communities: The Role of Reference Works in Crystallizing Ideas and Attitudes in the Enlightenment: The Case of Beneficence

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 3:50 PM
Washington Room 6 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Harvey Chisick, University of Haifa
The term 'bienfaisance' appears late. It is a neologism of the eighteenth century, intentionally coined by the abbe de Saint-Pierre during the 1720s. It was picked up by Voltaire, but there was no entry for it in the main body of the Encyclopedie (1751). It does, however, appear in an admirably scholarly treatment in the Dictionnaire de Trevoux of 1752. The Supplement to the Encyclopedie (1776) does have an entry for bienfaisance, and the Dictionnaire universel des sciences (1777-83) also has one that begins by reproducing in its entirety the  Encyclopedie Supplement entry. The entire Encyclopedie article and the first part of the DUS entry are taken verbatim from a civics text written by a completely unknown maitre de pension living in London. The second part of the DUS entry is taken from an obscure lecture given before the Berlin Academy and subsequently published in its Proceedings. The author, who was associated with the Encyclopedie, had attracted considerable attention for a work on ethics he had written around mid-century. The compilers who produced the DUS thus welded the core of their article on beneficence from unacknowledged works by two authors who had very different lifestyles, lived in different countries and who had never met, but who nevertheless contributed to forming a normative understanding of a key Enlightenment value.