«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College In partial fulfillment of ...»
La veille et le matin de cette grande journée, on avait eu soin d’exercer tous ces nobles combattants, et de leur bien marquer les endroits où ils devaient faire feu, et applaudir à toute outrance. Le sage Tacite171, le prudent Théophraste172, et tous les graves Sénateurs  de la République des Philosophes ne se trouvèrent point à cette affaire ; ils ne jugèrent pas à propos d’exposer leurs augustes personnes. Ils attendaient l’événement aux Tuileries, où ils se promenaient inquiets, égarés, impatients. Ils avaient donné ordre qu’on leur envoyât un courrier à chaque Acte. Les gens de goût s’avancèrent tranquillement, mais en très petit nombre, sans Commandants, sans dispositions, et même sans troupes auxiliaires ; ils se reposaient sur la justice de leur cause : confiance trop aveugle! (AL, V, 211-212) Fréron’s opinion of the performance is partisan and little more than a nasty fictionalization of possible events that occurred at the Comédie Française in late July, 1760: we will never know for sure what happened at L’Ecossaise’s premiere. As a polemical rhetorician or as a witness to actual behavior, Fréron nevertheless writes about an organized choreography that responded to specific moments of the performance (“les endroits où ils devaient faire feu”).
Fréron emphasizes the concerted effort by philosophes to alter audience behavior before the performance (“la veille” and “le matin”). According to the critic, the secte had already determined how spectators would respond to specific moments in the play before the Comédie-Française raised its curtain. What is more, Fréron diverts the attention of his reader from the play to the Tuileries—the location where Parisians went to buy illegal pamphlets and exchange literary and political gossip.173 In Fréron’s view, exterior This is probably a reference to D’Alembert. The famous mathematician and encyclopedist published a translation of morceaux choisis by Tacitus in 1743.
Duckworth argues that this is possibly a reference to either Duclos or d’Argental (“Introduction” 267).
In his Mémoires, the abbé Morellet provides an interesting correlation between reading practices and exact geographical locations in Paris during this precise period.
After the publication of a few pamphlets about Palissot in June 1760, Morellet noticed that “aux Tuileries et au Palais Royal, on voyait des groupes de lecteurs riant aux éclats” locations to the Comédie-Française (the Tuileries, Palais-Royal) emerge as equally important to understanding the “event” as what is happening on stage.
The critic takes this theory even further, arguing that philosophes created a communication system from the Tuileries to the Comédie-Française that relayed orders from “Senators” in the gardens to “troops” at the theater, or, a sort of network for spectator choreography at the show. Keeping Fréron’s partisanship in mind, with this last description, the critic is either highlighting a relatively brand new experience in theatergoing, or, if he is lying, a novel way to critique an adversary’s dramatic work by denouncing the entire theatrical experience as nothing more than a “set up.” In the next paragraph, Fréron continues his overt denunciation of philosophes such as Marmontel, Diderot and Grimm, while at the same time describing the
mobilization of spectators during the performance:
(91). It is also worth noting that the Comédie-Française was located very near (until
1770) and then just next to (1770-1782) the Tuileries.
Most definitely a reference to Marmontel, who had recently spent two weeks in the Bastille and lost his position as editor of the Mercure de France for publishing a nasty satire about the Duc d’Aumont.
When the curtain rises, the philosophe “army” immediately jumps into action by stomping its feet in unison. In this excerpt, Fréron argues that spectators undermined the role of actors by cheering at specific lines of the play before their oral enunciation by the characters on stage. Fréron’s fictional account may not be a complete manipulation of the truth, given the fact that Voltaire published his dramatic text over two months before the performance—an action that would have enabled spectators to know (and memorize) the actors’ lines before they were delivered. Although Fréron focuses this critique on the play’s performance, we can discern the importance of the dramatic text in providing the spectators the ability to cheer lines they knew were coming, even before the actors could open their mouths!
In the final paragraph of the Relation, Fréron moves past the performance of the play and describes a concerted effort by philosophes to control the work’s critical
Le Sénat fut très satisfait de tout ce qu’il venait d’entendre. Le Général lui présenta la liste des Guerriers qui s’étaient le plus distingués. Sur la lecture qui en fut faite à haute voix, on ordonna au petit Prestolet175 de l’inférer en entier dans sa première Gazette Littéraire, avec de grands éloges pour chaque héros ;  ensuite les Sénateurs tendirent la main à l’un, fourrèrent agréablement à l’autre, promirent à celui-ci un exemplaire de leurs Œuvres Mêlées, à celui-là de le louer dans le premier ouvrage qu’ils feraient, à quelques-uns des places de courtier dans l’Encyclopédie, à tous des billets pour aller encore à L’Ecossaise gratis, en leur recommandant de ne point s’endormir sur leurs lauriers, et de continuer à bien faire leur devoir ; ils leur représentèrent qu’il était à craindre que la vigilance des ennemis ne profitât de leur inaction pour leur dérober le fruit de leur victoire. Après ce discours éloquent et flatteur, le Sénat les congédia, et invita à souper le Général et les principaux Officiers. Avant le Banquet, on tira un beau feu d’artifice ; il y eut grande chère, un excellent concert de Musique Italienne, un Intermède exécuté par des Bouffons, des illuminations à la façade de  tous les hôtels des Philosophes. Un Bal According to Duckworth’s critical edition of L’Ecossaise, this could be a reference to Joseph de Laporte (267).
philosophique qui dura jusqu’à huit heures du matin, termina la fête. Les Sénateurs, en se retirant, ordonnèrent qu’on eût à s’assembler aux Tuileries sur les six heures du soir pour chanter un TE VOLTARIUM.
(AL, V, 214-216) Fréron asserts that the philosophes, with an air of self-congratulation, patted themselves on the back after controlling L’Ecossaise’s performance. After paying Parisians to come see their partisan play “gratis,” according to the critic, philosophes then began to write a review of L’Ecossaise, lauding each member of the party and doling out gifts for a job well done against the enemy.
In his first review of L’Ecossaise, Fréron emphasizes the play’s plot as well as the author’s compositions of Lindane, Lady Alton, and Freeport. Switching gears in his Relation, Fréron then underlines the importance of the “Wasp” reference in determining the overall success of the play. Whereas the satirical reference was nothing more than anecdotal in his first review, in La Relation it emerges as a key element of the play’s reception.
Fréron’s change in emphasis highlights the important “performative” function of Voltaire’s Wasp character. Reviewing the printed version of the play, Fréron treats the Wasp as nothing more than a polemical snippet—a minor character from a philosophe pamphlet. However, when L’Ecossaise finds a live audience at the Comédie-Française, this once minor aspect of the comedy, through extra-scenic planning and choreography by spectators, emerges as central to the boisterous reception of the theatrical performance.
Fréron’s change in rhetoric between the two reviews highlights the qualitative difference between pamphlets and theatrical performances as cultural weapons in the Republic of Letters. Because of the larger and more visible receptive field inherent to theater, Fréron is forced to change his outlook on the entire affair, as indicated by the style and form of this theater criticism. Fréron’s La Relation is the critic’s reaction to L’Ecossaise’s performance.176 However, behind the scenes and through more covert epistolary channels, Fréron’s response to Voltaire’s play takes on more political overtones. Fréron’s loud and somewhat hilarious tone in La Relation quickly cedes to complaints to the censure and high-level governmental officials.
When L’Ecossaise was nothing more than a pamphlet, Fréron could afford to shrug off the references to his personality and place in society. For example, in a letter to Charles-Simon Favart from the late spring of 1760, Fréron dismisses the play and adopts a matter-of-fact logic: “Je n’ai pas porté de plaintes contre l’écossaise, parce que je n’y suis point nommé et que je ne m’y suis point reconnu, et que tous ceux qui m’ont suivi depuis mon enfance n’ ont point vu le moindre trait qui pût me convenir. Ainsi j’ai pris le parti de mépriser cette satire maussade et brutale” (qtd. in Balcou, Fréron contre les philosophes 207).
Fréron trivializes the play in his letter to the dramatist Favart. Because L’Ecossaise’s author never uses the explicit word “Fréron” in his text, Fréron sees no reason to pursue the affair with the Royal censure. As a controversial critic himself, Fréron knew the censure’s specific rules about denunciation and overt criticism—and Fréron might also be responding to edits that Voltaire made to the text in order to emphasize Frélon’s nefarious character and make more general criticisms of CounterEnlightenment personalities. In his critical edition of the play, Duckworth argues that the philosophe changed the text because, “Voltaire’s attention was no doubt brought by d’Argental and Mme d’Epinay to points raised in the reviews, but the incorporation of references to the philosophes in act I scene 3 of the stage version can be scene as his attempt to make it fulfill an additional function as a reply to Palissot’s play” (253).
Fréron was certainly no stranger to the occasional run-in with authorities.177 Fréron’s early silence indicates that in textual form, Voltaire’s insults fall under the guise of accepted norms in the feuille genre—all seems fair in the nasty world of pamphleteering.
But similar to the critic’s abrupt rhetorical transformation from measured calmness in his first review to sarcasm in his second review, Fréron’s silence in front of authorities changes after the play’s performance.
In a letter to the censure Malsherbes on 21 August 1760, Fréron seems to have
swallowed all of the harsh criticism that he could possibly bear:
Je sais bien, Monsieur, que j’étais libre de ne point prendre pour moi les injures qui sont dans l’écossaise parce qu’il n’y a ni nom propre ni faits allégués. Cette idée m’était même venue ; mais comme Voltaire, et les philosophes, et leurs croupiers, et les petits auteurs que j’ai critiqués, avaient eu soin de répandre que c’était moi qu’on avait eu en vue, mon silence à cet égard aurait passé pour dissimulation, pour fausseté, pour crainte…Ainsi j’aurais mauvaise grâce de dissimuler ces injures atroces, et j’ai mieux aimé m’abandonner à ma franchise bretonne ; j’ai compté que cela me ferait plus d’honneur, et que la honte rejaillirait sur mes ennemis.
(qtd in Balcou, Fréron contre les philosophes, 207-208) The performance of L’Ecossaise, coupled with the revelation that not just a low-level philosophe, but Voltaire, the “Patriarch of Ferney” himself penned the comedy, proves too powerful a trauma for Fréron to combat alone. In his letter to the censure, the critic highlights his modest Breton origins and the fact that he is facing an attack from a unified army. He still understands that Voltaire’s omission of Fréron’s “nom propre” mitigates the harshness of the critique, nevertheless, he argues that the philosophes have made it so clear that the Wasp is nobody else but Fréron that he must now blow the whistle. Fréron’s desperate plea attests to the power of performance as a form of criticism. L’Ecossaise’s For example, the suppression of Fréron’s Lettres de la Comtesse de … in 1749 or the temporary suspension of his Lettres sur quelques écrits de ce temps in 1752.
dramatic text is harsh enough, but extra-textual performative events during the premiere surpass the written words on the script and emerge as just as important (if not even more important) than the digs in the original manuscript.
When philosophes deliver lines before the actors, stomp their feet at certain moments, and highlight the incendiary moments of the performance, they are also subverting the ensemble of textual elements. They choose exactly what to emphasize (the Fréron digs) and center the entire performance on those precise elements. Fréron’s critical accounts of the performance, as well as his personal behavior as indicated in correspondence, attest to an ephemeral, difficult-to-locate form of literary criticism: the live spectator critique.
But what if the whole episode didn’t really even happen? What if Diderot never led an army of philosophes or Madame Fréron remained quiet and self-effacing during the performance—instead of strong-willed and impervious to the “secte philosophique,” as indicated in several criticisms?178 Whether or not spectators acted in the precise manner described by Fréron is difficult, if not fruitless, to pursue. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of “spectator criticism” is its use as a rhetorical weapon. Therefore, maybe Fréron described fictitious spectator behavior as a critical tool, or, as justification to go to the censure.
When we weigh Fréron’s Relation d’une grande bataille against his correspondence with Favart, Palissot and other anti-philosophes, we can discern two conflicting criticisms. On the one hand, Fréron is the critical text’s author and his review of L’Ecossaise attempts to show that the play is not “inherently good” and that it is only Drawing on various sources from the period, Eugène Lentilhac paints an interesting picture of Madame Fréron in his 1897 seminar on “L’Ecossaise de Voltaire,” p. 709.
through concerted efforts by philosophes that L’Ecossaise gained any sort of public success.